The Guardian September 4, 2002


Hazardous chemicals kill thousands at work

As we pause to remember those who have died of cancer and those who are 
currently suffering it is important to acknowledge the relationship between 
our health and well-being and the workplace.

Thousands of Australian workers die each year as a result of exposure to 
deadly chemicals in the workplace.

Victorian Trades Hall Council occupational health and safety co-ordinator 
Cathy Butcher said cancer was the silent killer of workers who were exposed 
to hazardous substances at work over many years.

"When you think of workplace fatalities don't imagine it is just about 
workers being killed in isolated tragic incidents. It is also about those 
who die long painful deaths from cancerous diseases they have contracted as 
a result of working with dangerous and toxic chemicals."

Ms Butcher said employers had a moral and legal responsibility to provide 
employees with comprehensive information and training on hazardous 
chemicals in the workplace and to support research into the causal 
relationship between cancer and exposure to chemicals at work.

A study conducted by WorkSafe Australia in 1993 estimated that 2300 
Australians died each year from occupational exposure to hazardous 
substances.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has recently estimated that 
between 1.9 and 2.3 million workers die from work-related causes every 
year.

Of these deaths 354,00 are a result of accidents. The remaining deaths are 
attributed to occupational diseases including cancers, chronic lung 
disorders and nervous system conditions.

Statistically, cancer affects almost one in three people. Those who are not 
directly affected by the disease will know someone who is.

* * *
Acknowledgements: Victorian Trades Hall Council

Back to index page