There are many tasks undertaken during work that provide potential for exposure to a range of carcinogens. However, understanding the nature and scope of these exposures is difficult. This presentation considers what is known about such exposures in Australia and the burden of cancer arising from them.
The most comprehensive information on occupational exposures in Australia comes from the Australian Workplace Exposure Study (AWES). This study focussed on carcinogens. In terms of burden, the most up to date information has been estimated as part of the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study, which includes a range of occupational carcinogens, most notably asbestos, silica and diesel engine exhaust. A population attributable fraction (PAF) approach was used. The PAFs were applied to estimates of the total number of deaths or Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALYs) of a disorder to produce estimates of the number of deaths or the overall burden (in DALYs) arising from the exposures.
Available information from AWES suggests that about 40% of the Australian workforce are exposed to one or more carcinogens, most commonly solar ultraviolet (UV) radiation, diesel engine exhaust, environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) and benzene. The GBD study estimated that in 2016 there about 5,500 cancer deaths (and 105,000 DALYs), mostly from lung cancer, arising from occupational exposures, primarily from asbestos, ETS and silica exposure, that occurred in previous decades.
Exposure to occupational carcinogens is an important contributor to disease burden in the Australian community. Measuring and monitoring of exposures and awareness of the burden estimates provide guidance as to where prevention and control efforts might best be targeted.