AUSTRALIAN employers, regulators and workers need to improve efforts to protect workers from cancer risks in the workplace according to a new report released by Cancer Council at a conference on Monday, May 18.
The report, Occupational Cancer Costs, estimates that fewer than 10 per cent of occupational cancers attract compensation due to under-reporting and uncertainty about causation, indicating that more effective means of ensuring compensation for those impacted in the past is also required.
Chair of Cancer Council Australia’s Occupational and Environmental Cancers Committee and author of the report, Terry Slevin, said the $360.5 million paid in workers’ compensation for occupational cancers between 2000 and 2012 was “the tip of the iceberg”.
“On average there were 395 annual claims for work-related cancers over the study period, costing businesses an average $30 million each year in compensation,” Mr Slevin said. “This is likely to be a huge under-reporting, given around 3.6 million Australians could be exposed to carcinogens at work.
“Recent analysis suggests that occupational risk factors may contribute to more than six per cent of all cancer cases diagnosed in Australia each year – 5000 new cancer cases each year.
“However, our analysis shows a mere 395 compensation payments for work-related cancers are made each year. This means that more than 90 per cent of those diagnosed with a cancer linked to their workplace haven’t received any compensation.
“Workers who develop cancer because of workplace exposures should receive adequate compensation – but a much better approach for everyone is to ensure appropriate protection is in place to prevent the cancer. If they don’t act, employers and regulators will be sitting on a cancer time bomb.”
The report found that while skin cancer was the biggest contributor to the number of workplace cancer compensation claims (77 per cent), mesotheliomas accounted for the largest percentage of compensation paid (72 per cent).
Mr Slevin said that there needed to be increased awareness of occupational cancer risks and action from employers to protect their employees’ health, as well as making sure those who were impacted were properly compensated.
“Risk factors like asbestos and UV are well known, but there are other exposures and jobs that are linked to cancer risk that need further awareness – such as exposure to diesel, wood dust through cabinet making and metal production.
“Australian businesses learnt their lesson the hard way when it came to the impact of asbestos and many Australians are still paying the price.
“We should be able to carry out a day’s work, and go about our working lives without putting themselves at risk of developing cancer. We also need to make sure those who are affected are properly compensated.”
Source: Cancer Council Australia