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Bras left outside conference as protest

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HSE, Health and Safety Executive conference, occupational cancers, breast cancer, protest, Hazards Campaign, the Alliance for Cancer Prevention, , Tackling occupational cancer should mean preventing it, not taking a ‘3 monkeys’ approach.

Campaigners against occupational and environmental cancer held a photo op outside the British Library and the Health and Safety Executive conference on Tackling Occupational Diseases last week – and left their bras behind.

Women’s work-cancer is almost totally ignored by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), so the campaigners left bras behind as a protest against the ‘denial, delay and dithering’ that, they say, will kill more women from breast cancer.

The campaigners say that the government, employers and the Health and Safety Executive are consigning thousands of workers to occupational cancer by their ‘3 monkeys’ approach to ‘tackling’ occupational cancer.

Occupational cancer kills up to 18,000 men and women each year yet action on prevention has been side-lined in favour of yet more research, and work-related cancer in women is still virtually ignored –  condemning more women to suffer and die.

HSE’s old fashioned, outdated approaches, the campaigners say, miss many modern workplace risks but especially ignore women’s cancers, specifically breast cancer, as researchers have recently shown.

Which is why, to reinforce this point, they left their bras outside the British Library as a protest.

Traditional approaches to try and regulate the amount of exposure to certain chemicals in occupational and environmental settings are unworkable in light of what we know about chemicals which interfere with our endocrine systems, the body’s messenger system.

These endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are intrinsically linked with cancer and act singularly and in combination to increase the risk of breast and other cancers.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) in a report published in 2012 estimated that as much as 24 per cent of human diseases and disorders are at least partly due to environmental factors, including chemical exposures.

The report says: “Many endocrine diseases and disorders are on the rise and the speed at which they are increasing rules out genetic factors as the sole plausible explanation.”

Recent research highlighting incidences of breast cancer in occupations such as agricultural, automotive plastics and food canning industries found women workers had elevated breast cancer risk, up to 5 times higher than the controls in certain sectors such as automotive plastics (3)

And another paper on the issue, ‘Environmental and Occupational Interventions for Primary Prevention of Cancer: A Cross-Sectorial Policy Framework’, said: “Primary prevention of cancer of environmental and occupational origin reduces cancer incidence and mortality, and is highly cost effective; in fact, it is not just socially beneficial because it reduces medical and other costs, but because it avoids many human beings suffering from cancer.”

The United Steelworkers union in the USA acted immediately on this research by alerting their members and calling for substitution, chemical law reform and health and safety improvements.

Yet the UK cancer establishment continued to assure women there is no need to worry and falls back on the archaic and limited risk reduction strategy of better diet, more exercise and limiting alcohol.

Hilda Palmer, of the Hazards Campaign, said: “We want this HSE meeting to make publicly explicit the extent, and preventable nature, of all occupational cancers; that prevention must be prioritised by government, employers and the HSE; that exposure to all cancer risks must be eliminated or reduced to as low a level as possible, and that women’s cancer risks must now be targeted for prevention.”

“The Hazards Campaign has accused the HSE of dithering, denying and delaying over occupational cancer, and employers and government are also guilty of doing almost nothing on prevention for all work-cancers.

“But this ‘3 monkeys’ approach is especially deadly for work-related cancer in women which has been completely ignored, under-researched and so much less likely to be targeted for preventative action,” Palmer said.

And Helen Lynn, from the Alliance for Cancer Prevention, said: “Occupational and environmental breast cancer is largely preventable and we hope this strategic meeting organised by the HSE will call for that.

“For female cancers, specifically breast cancer, not to act now in a precautionary way, applying existing knowledge to reduce the occupational and environmental risk factors could be viewed as an act of wilful neglect.”

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