One worker diagnosed with diesel-fume related lung cancer every three days - October 2016

The Cancer Council is calling for greater cancer awareness in workplaces following the rate of workers diagnosed with lung cancer from work-based exposure to diesel fumes.

Approximately 1.2 million Australians are exposed to diesel engine exhaust at work, with nearly 130 diagnosed with lung cancer each year as a result.

Cancer Council Australia’s occupational and environment cancer committee chair, Terry Slevin said while awareness of factors such as asbestos and UV rays was common, the potential dangers of exposure to diesel fumes was low.

“Exposure to diesel fumes is Australia’s second-most prevalent work-based cancer-causing agent,” he said.

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

Those affected include those who work with diesel motor vehicles including buses, tractors, trains and forklifts, particularly in enclosed spaces like garages and workshops or underground mines. There are also risks for people who work with diesel operated generators, compressors or power plants.

The World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) upgraded its classification of diesel exhaust to a ‘Group 1’ carcinogen, confirming the fumes as a cause of cancer.

Following a report on the correlation between diesel fumes and cancer, IARC director Kurt Straif said the fumes were “on the same order of magnitude as passive smoking.”

IARC also estimates that those regularly exposed to diesel exhaust fumes at work can be up to 40 per cent more likely to develop lung cancer.
Slevin suggested measures such as winding up the windows and turning on the air conditioning when driving a diesel vehicle as ways to minimise exposure to diesel fumes.

As a part of National Safe Work Month this October, the Cancer Council Australia has released a series of resources outlining workplace cancer risks of diesel engine exhaust, UV radiation, welding fumes, and second-hand tobacco smoke for employers and employees.

They include ways to reduce carcinogen exposure at and legal obligations for companies.

By Mike Wheeler