The planet marks World Cancer Day on 4 February each year, an international awareness event with a growing social media profile that is helping to cut the costs and emotional losses caused by many forms of occupational cancer that are still on the increase. Jon Herbert reports.

One in every two people will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives. Fortunately, survival rates have doubled in the last 40 years.

Even so, some 8.2 million people still die of various forms of the disease annually, four million prematurely between the ages of 30 and 69.

The social and economic tolls are also immense too — currently estimated to be circa £199 billion globally annually, a figure that is expected to rise to nearer £315 billion by 2030.

Yet, it is calculated that more than 30% of all cancer deaths are preventable. Achieving this is one of the objectives of World Cancer Day which aims to raise cancer awareness internationally, particularly using social media.

Designed to bring together companies, individuals, communities and Government, the 10th World Cancer Day in 2017 is part of the World Cancer Campaign which was adopted after the World Summit Against Cancer for the New Millennium in 2000.

The first world day was on 4 February 2006, a regular date now pencilled into the diaries across many countries.

Sad facts

Industrial health and safety plays a central role in cancer prevention and is a key Health and Safety Executive (HSE) priority that has both employer and employee roles and responsibilities.

The goal is to defeat approximately 200 known types of cancer caused by cell DNA mutations and particularly those associated with the working environment.

Lung cancer is the most prolific killer, with 1.4 million deaths globally every year. Smoking remains a major factor, which is why it is targeted relentlessly in developed countries. Some 740,000 people also die of stomach cancer annually; liver cancer is a close third, with 700,000 fatalities.

The majority, 70%, of recorded cancer cases are in the developed world — Western Europe, North America and Oceania (the South Pacific including Australia). Projections suggest that the death rate will reach 12 million across the world by 2030. That’s an increase of more than 30% in less than 15 years.

In a world where more people expect to live longer, cancer is an increasing problem, which is why a range of initiatives are trying to make a difference.

Cancer at work

As the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) points out, occupational causes of cancer are a major cause for concern and have been the driver for the IOSH No Time to Lose campaign since 2014.

No Time to Lose featured in a December 2016 presentation to the All-Party Parliamentary Group at the Britain Against Cancer Conference in Central Hall, Westminster. The event brought together health and policy experts, patients, carers and commercial organisations to keep cancer high on the agenda of leading UK decision-makers.

IOSH says it is now estimated that around 8000 people die of occupational cancers in the UK annually, all of which could be avoided with the right advice and resources.

Recent Imperial College London research finds that nearly 14,000 new UK cancer cases caused by occupational risks are reported each year. Mesothelioma deaths resulting from exposure to asbestos rose from just over 400 annually in 1982 to more than 2000 by 2010.

Well over 50 substances are listed as known or probable causes of workplace cancer. While in the highly-controlled EU one in five workers are likely to face an occupational cancer risk, internationally work cancer deaths outnumber work accident fatalities.

The No Time to Lose campaign makes available free information, free practical resources, expert advice, major event opportunities and the latest news on occupational cancer — all as part of a national action plan.


Work-related cancer is still the fifth largest cause of avoidable cancers in the UK after lifestyle choices such as smoking and diet.

Asbestos is the best known and biggest carcinogenic cancer killer and is still calculated to take more than 100,000 lives a year worldwide. Before the mineral used extensively in the past as insulation is totally eradicated, it is predicted that 10 million people will have died.

Silica dust is a new component in the IOSH campaign, joining asbestos, diesel engine exhausts, solar radiation, plus shift work that impairs human immunity systems. Silica causes some 800 industrial deaths a year and HSE ranks it as the second largest risk to construction workers.

Silica fatalities are caused by inhaling respirable crystalline silica (RCS) — known as stone dust — from soil, sand, concrete, bricks, fibre, cement products, masonry, rock, granite, clay and landscaping materials. Sandstone is more than 70% silica; granite 15% to 30%.

Small changes can make an important difference. Innovations in paint and dry cleaning products have seen risks tumble in certain areas. However, new risks are also emerging. Modern paint-spraying techniques, plus the “by-product” effect of, for example, stone dust (silica), much-publicised diesel fumes and unintended exposure to the sun can be harder to guard against.

Add to the list coal tars, metalworking fluids, mineral oils, pesticides, pitch solvents, tetrachloroethylene, varnishes, wood dust, radon and welding fumes. Carcinogens may also be in the form of solids, liquids, vapours, gases and dust that can be breathed in, swallowed or absorbed through the skin.

Making the problem more difficult still, some cancers take 10 to 35 years to develop. Avoidance and early diagnosis are essential.

Getting it right

Employers who fail to meet the regulations in the UK can face prosecution, fines and damage to their reputation. HSE imposes more than 40 improvement or prohibition notices annually for badly managed work risks, plus well above 200 notices for failing to control asbestos — which alone results in some 30 successful prosecutions a year.

HSE’s website provides:

  • advice about what employers must do to protect employee health
  • links to the regulatory framework for chemical and harmful substances
  • links to employer information on legal responsibilities
  • information for employees working with carcinogens
  • practical information links about workplace cancer hazards and controlling exposure.

HSE advises anyone with concerns about a lack of workplace control procedures to report them to their local HSE office, or local authority Environmental Health Officer — anonymously if need be.

The legislation requiring employers to control substances hazardous to health in COSHH and further information and advice can be found on the HSE COSHH website.

World Cancer Day — every action counts

To make World Cancer Day a really influential integrated global event, the organisers are urging everyone to maximise the use of social media and post their individual activities on an interactive Map of Impact.

To make this easier, a comprehensive “Support through Sport” social media campaign is included this year. There is also an invitation to follow the official Facebook and Instagram account, plus an opportunity to sign up for the World Cancer Day Thunderclap campaign which will disseminate mass messaging through Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.

Further information

All details are available on

The World Cancer Day logo can be downloaded for company website use, with a link to the World Cancer Day website.



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