4 March 2014

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has published on its website a paper outlining its current and future plans to tackle occupational disease as a “critical issue”, with particular focus to be on the priority areas of respiratory disease and occupational cancer.

The document is earmarked for presentation at the meeting of HSE’s Board on 5 March 2014, which has how to tackle occupational disease listed as a key item on the agenda.

In the case of respiratory disease, the paper notes that work-related respiratory disease covers a range of illnesses that are caused or made worse by breathing in hazardous substances that damage the lungs such as dusts, fumes and gases. The most prevalent of these diseases are said to be chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma and silicosis.

A number of industries and workplace activities are linked to a high incidence and greater risk of respiratory disease and the paper sets out priority areas in this regard as:

  • construction workers

  • foundry workers

  • welders

  • quarry and stone workers

  • vehicle paint sprayers

  • bakery workers.

In respect of occupational cancer, priorities for future activity are listed as:

  • asbestos

  • shift work

  • respirable crystalline silica

  • welding

  • painters

  • diesel engine exhaust emissions

  • solar radiation

  • polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (coal tars and pitches)

  • tetrachloro-ethylene

  • radon.

Future subjects for developing stakeholder working partnerships are suggested as “breast cancer associated with shift work (night work) and cancer in painters” where the paper argues there is a “need to develop a better understanding of the causal link/exposure scenarios and continuing developing relationships on the topic of work aggravated asthma”.

Quoting the recent triennial review of the HSE, the paper also notes the review’s recommendation that, “HSE continues to seek new and innovative ideas for interventions that maximise its impact on the continuing high levels of work-related ill health.”