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January 22, 2014
Cancer now the leading cause of work-related deaths

Cancer has become the leading cause of occupational fatality claims in Ontario, the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) reports.  

According to research published in the CMAJ, occupational cancers now account for 63 per cent of all work-related fatalities in the province.  Traumatic injuries, such as accidents in the workplace, accounted for only 23 per cent of death claims.

The 2012 data almost reverses traditional mortality statistics.  For example, in 1997, 51 per cent of work-related fatality claims in Ontario were a result of traumatic injuries or disorders.  Occupational cancers totalled 30 per cent of death claims in the workplace.

While the CMAJ article focuses on Ontario, the increase of occupational cancer rates should be of concern to employers and plan sponsors in other jurisdictions.Occupational cancers generally occur as a result of exposure to carcinogens at work.  The sharp increase in occupation-related deaths from cancer is particularly worrisome, as many of today’s cancer diagnoses may be a result of carcinogenic exposures that occurred as long as 30 years ago, according to the Occupational Cancer Research Centre (OCRC) at Toronto’s York University.

“Accepted occupational cancer claims represent only a small fraction of the actual number of work-related cancers,” the OCRC says.  “This is thought to be primarily a result of under-reporting…The actual number of occupational cancers is therefore grossly under-represented by accepted claims statistics.”

The OCRC says it is especially concerned about the increase in the cases of mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer that attacks the protective lining of some internal organs.

Workplace carcinogens such as industrial chemicals, asbestos, metals, engine exhaust, fibres, dust, radiation and second hand smoke are suspected of being contributors to the increased rates of occupational cancer.  

“To change these trends, it is important to further strengthen and enforce occupational exposure limits and reduce the use of both known and suspected carcinogens and other toxic substances,” the OCRC says.

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