A report in the February 20 issue of the Medical Journal of Australia reveals that the country needs a more effective process to reduce exposure to carcinogens in order to lower the number of work-related cancers.

Each year in Australia, it is estimated that approximately 5,000 cancers can be attributed to occupational exposure to cancer-causing agents.

A more effective system to detect carcinogens in work environments has been requested by professor Lin Fritschi, of the Western Australian Institute for Medical Research, and colleagues in order to reduce the use of chemicals in industry and inform employees about potential risks.

Fritschi, explained:

“There are very good systems internationally which could be considered for use here in Australia to help reduce the risk of workplace exposure to carcinogens.

While some work has been done, there has been little progress in Australia’s regulatory approach to occupational carcinogen exposure. Australia should not lag behind international best practice in reducing exposure to carcinogens.”

Furthermore, the team state that enhanced data collection to enable a more precise evaluation of the extent of occupational exposure is needed.

The researchers write:

“To prioritize preventive activity, it will be essential to collect data on the number of workers in Australia who are exposed to carcinogens, what industries they are in, and the concentration and frequency of exposures.”

General practitioners as well as other relevant clinicians need to learn how to take a detailed workplace exposure history, according to the researchers. In addition, they need to improve their confidence in determining if cancers are caused as a result of occupational exposure so that potentially legal compensation cases could be pursued.

The researchers said:

“Poor awareness of exposure to occupational carcinogens and lack of attribution of cancer to occupational causes among both the clinical and general community limits opportunities to reduce the likelihood and extent of exposure.”

Written by Grace Rattue