Canadian Occupational Safety

January/February 2021

Canadian Occupational Safety (COS) magazine is the premier workplace health and safety publication in Canada. We cover a wide range of topics ranging from office to heavy industry, and from general safety management to specific workplace hazards.

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Page 21 of 47

22 F E A T U R E 2020 BREAST CANCER STATISTICS The CCOHS says that the most common types of occupational cancer are lung and bladder cancer and mesothelioma (cancer that begins in the tissue that lines vital organs such as the lungs, heart and stomach). Lung cancer and mesothelioma are notably associated with asbestos exposure. Cancers are broadly associated with certain types of carcinogens. In the case of breast cancer, the CCOHS says that high-risk substances such as ethylene oxide*, ionizing radiation** and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)*** could be carcinogenic. In addition, for breast cancer, shiftwork that involves circadian disruption (biological timing or day/night cycle) is an example of a high-risk occupation that can potentially increase the risk of breast cancer. *Ethylene oxide is used in a wide range of products including detergents, solvents, plastics, etc. For example, it is used in health-care facilities to sterilize critical items in some cases (according to the U.S. Centres for Disease Control). **According to the World Health Organization, "Ionizing radiation is radiation with enough energy so that during an interaction with an atom, it can remove tightly bound electrons from the orbit of an atom, causing the atom to become charged or ionized." ***PCBs are used in industrial and commercial applications, including electrical, heat transfer and hydraulic equipment. Which industries are at risk? In Our Chemical Selves: Gender, Toxics and Environmental Health, edited by Dayna Nadine Scott (published by UBC Press in 2015), researchers discuss the incidence of breast cancer among plastics industry workers ("Chapter 10: Plastics Industry Workers and Breast Cancer Risk: Are We Heeding the Warnings?" by Margaret M. Keith, James T. Brophy, Robert DeMatteo, Michael Gilbertson, Andrew E. Watterson and Matthias Beck). Their research examined workers' exposure to carcinogens and endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the plastics injection moulding industry. Plastics manufacturing employs around 91,000 people in Canada, with 48 per cent of plastics firms in Ontario alone. In 2003, the researchers began collecting data for a case-control study. Over six years of data collection, the researchers interviewed 1,006 women with breast cancer. They found that a total of 184 participants surveyed worked in the plastics industry at some point in Source: Canadian Cancer Society their lives. The study also found that the risk for breast cancer "more than doubled among women who had worked in automotive plastics manufacturing for ten years and who had been assessed as having been highly exposed to EDCs and/or carcinogens." The researchers also note additional studies that could demonstrate a link between plastics workers and incidences of breast cancer. "Despite the strong evidence that women in the plastics industry environment are exposed to agents that can cause cancer, to our knowledge no plastics worker in Canada has ever received workers' compensation following a diagnosis, nor have any breast cancers been recognized as work-related," say the authors (as we will see below, this is no longer the case). "Furthermore," the authors say, "no public inquiries or commissions have convened to examine the risks to women posed by exposures in the plastics industry, nor have there been any focused institutionalized research initiatives, prevention campaigns, educational programs, or regulatory changes." Additional studies have shown that, aside from plastics, specific sectors showed significant excesses in breast cancer risk. These include farming, food canning, metalworking and the bar/ casino/race track sector. Does gender play a role? The authors of the study cited above note that gender and class may play a part in why there is limited research around breast cancer among these workers. In addition, fear of job loss or delocalization play a part as to why workers may not speak up. Furthermore, with breast cancer, lifestyle risks and genetic susceptibility play a part. One of the paper's authors, James T. Brophy of the University of Windsor, posits that "occupational disease adjudication as well as all occupational health regulatory practices, exhibit deep-seated gender bias." In an article published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine in 2003, Shelia Hoar Zahm and Aaron Blair conclude that our current understanding of occupational exposures and breast cancer is most likely based on gender and is outdated: "Estimates that 1% of cancer among women is attributable to occupation are based on research conducted mainly in the 1970s among men in developed countries. These studies do not reflect the dramatic changes in the participation of women in the workplace or the patterns of employment of women in developing countries. Breast cancer awareness month is marked every year in October around the world It is the most common cancer among Canadian women (excluding non- melanoma skin cancers) It is estimated that, in 2020, 27,400 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer (25 per cent of all new cancer cases in women) An estimated 5,100 women will die of breast cancer in 2020 (13 per cent of all cancer deaths in women) In 2020, an estimated 240 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer, and 55 will die "Occupational disease is a huge draw on resources for our health-care system, in addition to negatively impacting workplaces and harming those suffering from it and their families." Loretta Bouwmeester, Mathews Dinsdale & Clark

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