Workplace cancers study leads occupational disease research

October 9, 2013, Massey University

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

Wine is good for you—to a point

January 18, 2018
The Mediterranean diet has become synonymous with healthy eating, but there's one thing in it that stands out: It's cool to drink wine.

Sleep better, lose weight?

January 17, 2018
(HealthDay)—Sleeplessness could cost you when it's time to stand on your bathroom scale, a new British study suggests.

Who uses phone apps to track sleep habits? Mostly the healthy and wealthy in US

January 16, 2018
The profile of most Americans who use popular mobile phone apps that track sleep habits is that they are relatively affluent, claim to eat well, and say they are in good health, even if some of them tend to smoke.

Improvements in mortality rates are slowed by rise in obesity in the United States

January 15, 2018
With countless medical advances and efforts to curb smoking, one might expect that life expectancy in the United States would improve. Yet according to recent studies, there's been a reduction in the rate of improvement in ...

Teens likely to crave junk food after watching TV ads

January 15, 2018
Teenagers who watch more than three hours of commercial TV a day are more likely to eat hundreds of extra junk food snacks, according to a report by Cancer Research UK.

Can muesli help against arthritis?

January 15, 2018
It is well known that healthy eating increases a general sense of wellbeing. Researchers at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) have now discovered that a fibre-rich diet can have a positive influence ...

0 comments

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.