Diesel work significantly increases lung cancer risk

Top cancer body says those who work with diesel fumes are 40 per cent more likely to get lung cancer

Diesel work significantly increases lung cancer risk
Expert says "exposure to diesel fumes is Australia’s second-most prevalent work-based cancer-causing agent."


Cancer Council Australia has issued a warning to those who work with diesel-powered engines, vehicles and machinery to be aware of the associated risks of lung cancer.

According to the health body, 130 Australian workers are diagnosed every year with lung cancer as a result of being exposed to diesel fumes in the work place.

Cancer Council Australia’s Occupational and Environmental Cancer Committee chair Terry Slevin says that while the risks of working in the sun or in demolition are well known, the effects of working on heavy vehicles aren’t as commonly known by the community.

"Awareness of the risks of exposures like asbestos and UV radiation is increasing, and is reflected in gradual improvements in work safety practices," Slevin says.

"By contrast, awareness of the hazards of exposure to diesel fumes is low, especially in relation to the potential harms.

"Exposure to diesel fumes is Australia’s second-most prevalent work-based cancer-causing agent.

"It’s estimated that around 1.2 million Australians are exposed to diesel engine exhaust at work each year and that 130 workers each year are diagnosed with lung cancer as a result of their exposure on the job."

The association of diesel fumes to lung cancer has led the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer to classify diesel exhaust as a ‘Group 1’ carcinogen.

The agency believes that people exposed to the fumes at work can be up to 40 per cent more likely to develop lung cancer.

"While the general population might only be exposed to diesel occasionally, those who work with diesel-fuelled heavy machinery are at high risk," Slevin says.

"This includes those who work with diesel motor vehicles including buses, tractors, trains and forklifts, especially in enclosed spaces like garages and workshops.

"There are also risks for people who work with diesel operated generators, compressors or power plants."

For those who work in these environments, Slevin advises to keep the air recycling.

"Taking simple steps, such as winding up the window and turning on the air con if you are driving a diesel vehicle, can reduce your cancer risk," Slevin says.

For employers, he says addressing the concerns now can save a lot of issues in the future.

"Taking stronger action now, and increasing awareness, will go a long way to avoiding the worst kind of problems down the track – employees being diagnosed with a cancer that can be attributed to what happened to them at work."

For more information on the link between the exhaust fumes and cancer, head to the Cancer Council Australia page here



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