Workplace cancers study leads occupational disease research

October 9, 2013

Public health researchers have identified which carcinogens are likely to contribute most to occupational cancer in New Zealand workplaces.

The study, funded by the Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC) and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) found that there are more than 50 known human carcinogens commonly present in New Zealand workplaces.

Members of the Centre for Public Health Research at Massey University's College of Health, undertook a selective study of numerous industries to determine varying levels of exposure to carcinogens such as asbestos, silica and wood dust in the report for the HRC and the Department of Labour (now part of MBIE).

Research fellow Dr Andrea 't Mannetje says the work was prompted by a lack of national data on the extent and spread of occupational exposure to carcinogens in industries ranging from agriculture, the construction industry, services and machinery and equipment manufacturing. Manufacturers of metal products and wood and paper products were also identified with having a high number of potentially exposed to cancers.

The study found that 87 per cent of New Zealand joinery workers and 63 per cent of furniture workers are exposed to inhalable wood dust levels in excess of international standards of one milligram per cubic metre.

Dr 't Mannetje says a review of available wood dust prevention strategies showed that educational intervention measures alone, such as risk education and providing information on good work practice only resulted in a "modest" reduction in wood dust exposure. Technical interventions such as employers providing workplaces with good ventilation and exhaust outlets, as well as promoting good cleaning standards could result in greater reductions, as was recently demonstrated in another study conducted by the Centre for Public Health Research.

This second Massey study, also funded by MBIE and the Health Research Council, found there are more than 50 known human commonly present in New Zealand workplaces.

Among the most common of these are asbestos, benzene, formaldehyde, involuntary smoking, wood dust, solar radiation and occupational exposures as a painter.

Since the report was submitted the International Agency for Research on Cancer has upgraded diesel engine exhaust from probably carcinogenic to a known human carcinogen.

As part of another study investigating levels in demolition sites, a survey of 91 maintenance workers including carpenters, electricians, painters plumbers and fitters revealed a general awareness of the health risks associated with the cancer-causing agent but only "moderate confidence" of just up to 40 per cent of the time in their ability to detect asbestos-containing building materials.

A further study measuring silica-containing dust exposures in workers using skill saws, in which one employee was monitored for two hours while skill sawing timber to size showed that the saw –workers and other colleagues were being exposed to high levels of silica containing dust.

Overall the study indicates there are many opportunities to reduce the burden of occupation related cancer in New Zealand, which has been estimated to be between 200 and 400 deaths a year.

The Centre is undertaking additional ongoing studies too. These include investigations into occupational asthma in New Zealand sawmill workers, the neurotoxic effects of occupational solvents exposure in the spray-painting industry and investigations into workplace cancer in the agricultural sector and among meat workers.

Explore further: Long-term exposure to silica dust increases risk of death in industrial workers

Related Stories

Long-term exposure to silica dust increases risk of death in industrial workers

April 17, 2012
Industrial workers who have been chronically exposed to silica dust are at substantially higher risk of death from all causes than workers who have not been exposed. Furthermore, the risk of death, especially from lung and ...

Study identifies dermatitis risk for cleaners

August 15, 2013
New Zealand's first ever study of occupational dermatitis in cleaners has found rates of eczema among them nearly twice that of people not exposed to cleaning agents.

Asbestos and shift work boost work-related cancer deaths to over 8,000 a year

June 20, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- Around 8,000 cancer deaths in Britain each year are linked to occupations - especially those where asbestos, diesel engine fumes or shift work is involved - a new study shows today. This equates to around ...

NZ outdoor workers poorly protected from the sun, researchers find

April 23, 2013
New Zealand outdoor workers are generally poorly protected from solar UV radiation, with only around one-third wearing sunscreen or a suitably protective hat, according to a University of Otago study published in the latest ...

Study shows links between dust and breast milk

August 13, 2013
Concentrations of organic compounds called brominated flame retardants in New Zealand samples of dust and breast milk are "well below" limits imposed by international authorities, researchers from the College of Health have ...

Recommended for you

Dog walking could be key to ensuring activity in later life

July 24, 2017
A new study has shown that regularly walking a dog boosts levels of physical activity in older people, especially during the winter.

Alcohol to claim 63,000 lives over next five years, experts warn

July 24, 2017
Alcohol consumption will cause 63,000 deaths in England over the next five years – the equivalent of 35 deaths a day – according to a new report from the University of Sheffield Alcohol Research Group.

App lets patients work alone or with others to prevent, monitor, and reverse chronic disease

July 24, 2017
Lack of patient adherence to treatment plans is a lingering, costly problem in the United States. But MIT Media Lab spinout Twine Health is proving that regular interventions from a patient's community of supporters can greatly ...

Alcohol boosts recall of earlier learning

July 24, 2017
Drinking alcohol improves memory for information learned before the drinking episode began, new research suggests.

To combat teen smoking, health experts recommend R ratings for movies that depict tobacco use

July 21, 2017
Public health experts have an unusual suggestion for reducing teen smoking: Give just about any movie that depicts tobacco use an automatic R rating.

High-fat diet in pregnancy can cause mental health problems in offspring

July 21, 2017
A high-fat diet not only creates health problems for expectant mothers, but new research in an animal model suggests it alters the development of the brain and endocrine system of their offspring and has a long-term impact ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.