UK: Work cancer risk warning after government safety cuts

New evidence confirming a cancer risk to tyre and rubber workers may go ignored because of the UK government’s safety deregulation and cuts, the union Unite has warned. The union was commented after research published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine revealed that workers in the tyre and rubber industry remain at significant risk of developing cancers caused by exposure to N-nitrosamines and rubber dust.

Unite noted the study findings were “particularly timely as it comes just before International Workers’ Memorial Day as the theme for this year’s event is dangerous substances – get them out of the workplace,” with the 28 April global event having a particular focus on occupational cancer prevention. The union, which represents thousands of workers in the industry, says it is unable to properly address the new health concerns as there is no longer an effective body where it can raise such issues. It charges that this “is a result of the Conservative government’s attacks on safety laws.”

The union says the  UK government safety regulator, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), previously had a Tyre and Rubber Industries Safety Action Group (TRISAG), with active involvement of both employers and unions, where safety concerns could be raised and dealt with. “However TRISAG has been scrapped as a result of government pressure and no similar body has replaced its work,” Unite says.

The new study confirms earlier findings that “N-nitrosamines exposures are associated with mortality from cancers of the bladder, lung, stomach, leukaemia, multiple myeloma, oesophagus, prostate, pancreas and liver.”

Unite national officer for the rubber industry Tony Devlin said: “This authoritative study is a stark reminder of the long-term health implications of being exposed to rubber. These dangers are being neglected as a direct result of the government’s cuts which are denying workers an effective voice in the corridors of power.” He added: “The lack of an effective forum to deal with exposure to cancer causing substances is another example of how the government has washed it hands of workplace health and safety. Cancer deaths will not be reduced unless effective measures are taken to cut exposure levels to N-nitrosamines and rubber dust.”

Unite news release. Mira Hidajat and others. Lifetime exposure to rubber dusts, fumes and N-nitrosamines and cancer mortality in a cohort of British rubber workers with 49 years follow-up, Occupational and Environmental Medicine, volume 76, number 4, pages 250-258, April 2019. doi: 10.1136/oemed-2018-105181
Cancers and their work causes: An ITUC/Hazards at-a-glance guide to cancer hazards. Also in French and Spanish.

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