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28 April 2008

International cancer conference - BWI says cancer no thanks

Speaking at the International Cancer Conference at Stirling University Scotland, BWI Health and Safety Director Fiona Murie, told international delegates that workers in the construction and timber trades are the worst affected by cancer causing substances at work.

There is a large number of cancer causing substances in our sectors. Unsafe work methods, informal, temporary employment and exploitative labour practices means that millions of workers are routinely exposed in both industrialised and developing countries.

Dust, fumes and many chemical substances used in our sectors can and do cause cancer, causing untold hardship and suffering to hundreds of thousands of families each year. Exposure to dusty conditions, with asbestos, silica and wood dust causes lung cancers and cancers of the respiratory tract. Fumes from welding, diesel and asphalt are well known to cause cancers, pesticides used in forestry and in timber treatments are deadly, and many solvents contained in glues, resins, paints and wood finishes are dangerous. In particular our unions are campaigning on formaldehyde and isocianates right now, but all pesticides and solvents are causing concern, as are dusty trades and fume laden environments.

There is a Vicious Cycle set up because of the social invisibility of ill health caused by workplace exposures. There is no information or training; no recognition of occupational origin; no proper treatment, compensation, regulation or link to workplace prevention.

The dramatic situation of chrysotile asbestos is the most widespread workplace cancer hazard for workers in the building sector, with 100,000 deaths a year from diseases caused by asbestos.The unions affiliated to the BWI are campaigning every day to highlight the dangers, and to put in place protection measures for workers who may be exposed to asbestos containing materials at work.
90% of chrysotile asbestos is used in cement products Increasingly aggressive asbestos marketing campaigns in developing countries. Dumping in those countries where laws and standards are weak and where information is not readily available Unsafe work methods, uncontrolled and informal work are creating hazardous working situations for , literally, millions of workers.

Fiona Murie described the main areas of the BWI cancer campaign: Specific information and training for trade unions on: typical workplace exposures in our sectors- Know What You¹re Using Laws, standards, trade union rights, sources of information and help Ideas for prevention measures, substitution, engineering and work organisation controls and PPE Building confidence and activism of trade union organisers, workplace reps and members to remove or reduce exposures

Agreements and lobbying activities include Institutional work with ILO, WHO, ISSA and IALI. The BWI is pushing for toxics use reduction with National governments and local authorities in their role as client and employer (in construction and forestry procurement) and as legislator and enforcer. The BWI has also been lobbying the World Bank and Multilateral Development Banks as well as companies to stop using asbestos and other substances known to cause cancer.