Updated: May 22
Occupational cancer is caused by exposure to hazardous substances in the workplace such as chemicals, dusts and radiation. Even certain industrial processes have been identified as causing specific occupational cancers.
But how do we know what workplace substances cause cancer?
A good place to start is by looking at the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) that should accompany any chemical used in the workplace. Section 2 of the SDS, Hazards Identification will list the hazards associated with the chemical including if it is a carcinogen. If you don’t have an SDS for each of your chemicals then you should request one from your supplier as the information it contains will also help you in developing your COSHH assessments.
Another document that can be a useful reference tool is the Health & Safety Executives EH40. This document lists substances along with their workplace exposure limits (WELs) that we as occupational hygienists use frequently. The far right column in the table also contains annotations with “CARC” being displayed when a particular substance is carcinogenic.
In order to determine if a particular agent is carcinogenic or not can take many years with research being continuously undertaken to classify agents accordingly. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) group agents as follows:
Group 1 Carcinogenic to humans
Group 2A Probably carcinogenic to humans
Group 2B Possibly carcinogenic to humans
Group 3 Not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans
IARC publish their findings in Monographs which can be found here if you fancy having a look, although I should warn you, there are a lot of them!
A short video of how the Monographs are produced can be found here.
So how should you manage carcinogenic agents in the workplace?
There are clear requirements set out in the COSHH Regulations, particularly Regulation 7 (1), which states that every employer shall ensure that the exposure of his employees to substances hazardous to health is either prevented or, where this is not reasonably practicable, adequately controlled.
Regulation 7 (3) details what is required in terms of controls where exposure to a hazardous substance cannot be reasonably prevented siting design, systems and engineering controls to name but a few.
However Reg 7 (5) specifically refers to carcinogens and states the following:
(5) Without prejudice to the generality of paragraph (1), where it is not reasonably practicable to prevent exposure to a carcinogen, the employer shall apply the following measures in addition to those required by paragraph (3)—
(a) totally enclosing the process and handling systems, unless this is not reasonably practicable;
(b) the prohibition of eating, drinking and smoking in areas that may be contaminated by carcinogens;
(c) cleaning floors, walls and other surfaces at regular intervals and whenever necessary;
(d) designating those areas and installations which may be contaminated by carcinogens and using suitable and sufficient warning signs; and
(e) storing, handling and disposing of carcinogens safely, including using closed and clearly labelled containers.
As you can see, there are additional control requirements for carcinogens used in the workplace due to the potential health impact on the workers. A link to COSHH Reg 7 can be found here.
What can Occupational hygienists do to help?
As we have discussed in previous blogs, occupational hygienists specialise in in the discipline of worker health by controlling workplace hazards that can cause harm.
An occupational hygienist can help businesses better understand their health hazards and the risks associated with them based on the work activities and processes that are undertaken by the business. They can provide advice on suitable controls that should be implemented to prevent or reduce exposures and can also check the effectiveness of existing controls. This can be done in a number of ways through occupational hygiene monitoring services:
Personal Exposure Monitoring / Workplace Exposure Monitoring - This can be carried out to establish the degree of exposure to airborne hazardous substances to individual workers to check that existing controls are adequate or when establishing what controls should be considered. These measurements can be directly compared to the exposure limits set out in EH40.
LEV Examination and Testing Services - Local Exhaust Ventilation systems are often used as a control method to control airborne hazardous substances in the workplace. However its effectiveness depends on a number of factors such as its design, correct use, repair and maintenance. Occupational hygienists can check the effectiveness of such a system by carrying out a thorough examination and test which is also a legal requirement here in the UK.
Health Risk Assessment - This entails a thorough systematic review of the workplace to establish all health hazards present including those that are carcinogenic. Existing controls are also assessed including procedures and processes that are used in order to reduce or eliminate exposures.
There are of course other services that occupational hygienists can provide but the above three are the main ones when dealing with carcinogenic.
How we can help?
At Blue Turtle Ltd, we provide a range of Occupational Hygiene Services to help businesses of all types manage their workplace health hazards, including the quantification of personal exposure to assist in COSHH assessments.
Our experienced consultants can provide practical advice on how to achieve adequate control through process changes, improvements, or adopting/changing work practices to reduce the risk as low as reasonably practicable.
Whatever your Occupational Hygiene needs are, Blue Turtle Ltd is here to help your business protect your workforce and help you meet your legal obligations.
Give us a call today on our free phone number 0330 024 0510 to discuss your needs or if you prefer, complete the online form with a brief outline of your business needs and/or concerns.
Blue Turtle - The missing cog in your business health!