ACTU Assistant Secretary Richard Marles believes the Occupational Cancer manual published by the Australasian Faculty of Occupational Medicine represents one of the most significant statements of hope for workers in this country today.
Two days ago, on Remembrance Day, we acknowledged the 60,000 of our fellow
countrymen who died in the First World War. On the 25th of April next
year we will acknowledge them again, and in doing so we will take a public
holiday and, in ever increasing numbers, hundreds and thousands of us will march
to honour these dead. There is a monument in this city to those who died in the
First World War as there is in every capital city in Australia. Indeed, there is
a monument in every town, near and far, big and small across the entire
continent to those who died in the Great War. There is now even such a monument
on the other side of the planet in London. That we should honour these 60,000
Australians in this way is very fitting and very proper.
It is estimated that as many as another 60,000 Australians will die as a
result of work related exposure to asbestos. It can be said that the vast
majority of those will die as a result of occupational cancer. Indeed asbestos
exposure is the single biggest cause of occupational cancer in Australia. But it
is not the only cause. The “Occupational Cancer” manual tell
us that as many as 26% of lung cancers, 28% of leukemia’s and 30% of lip
cancers may be caused by work. While admittedly these figures are unclear what
is certain is that number of people dying from occupational cancer every year is
very large. But for these people there are no monuments, there are no public
holidays, there are no marches, there is no minute’s silence. Given the
huge size of this tragedy, relatively speaking occupational cancer goes almost
entirely unnoticed in Australia today. And so if the “Occupational
Cancer” manual does one thing it will be a small step in raising the
national consciousness about the tragedy that is occupational cancer in our
While occupational cancer is a big problem it is a very difficult problem
too. For example dye workers who worked with aniline dyes experienced bladder
cancer at a rate 83 times that of the national average. And yet it took almost
50 years for that problem to be diagnosed, managed and ultimately contained. The
tremendous difficulties associated with occupational cancer are addressed in the
“Occupational Cancer” manual and practical and at times
ground breaking solutions to these problems have been offered.
But most significantly of all the “Occupational Cancer”
manual acknowledges that occupational cancer is preventable. And in that
acknowledgment and in its suggested preventions, the “Occupational
Cancer” manual represents one of the most significant statements of
hope for workers in this country today. And for that it has the whole hearted
support of the Australian Council of Trade Unions.
Remembrance Day actually celebrates the armistice that brought to an end the
carnage that was the killing of, amongst others, those 60,000 Australians in
World War 1. Let us hope that this Manual plays its part in bringing to an end
the quiet carnage of occupational cancer, which is killing so very many
Australians at work every year.
Richard Marles, Assistant Secretary, ACTU, Australasian Faculty of
Occupational Medicine, RACP Building, Sydney. Thursday 13 November 2003.