Occupational cancers

Occupational cancer leads to a significant number of deaths in the UK each year and this page provides advice and guidance on how the risks can be controlled and exposure to carcinogens minimised.

Recent research for HSE has estimated there are around 13,500 new cases of cancer caused by work every year and over 8,000 deaths, over half of which are due to past exposures to asbestos. The outputs from this research led by Dr Lesley Rushton from Imperial College London will help HSE to develop and prioritise practical measures to help reduce the occupational cancer burden in the future. Occupational cancers can be caused by prolonged exposure over many years to carcinogens in the workplace, not only to chemical substances including dust and fumes, but also from exposures to the sun and from shift work for example. The HSE cancer burden research has estimated almost 4,000 cancer deaths per year from past occupational exposure to asbestos; almost 800 cancer deaths per year from occupational silica exposures, and around 650 deaths per year from workplace exposures to diesel engines exhaust emissions (DEEE).

Although management of health risks in the rail industry continues to improve, rail employers need to remain vigilant and adopt an active precautionary policy for tasks involving exposure to known or suspect carcinogens.

In the rail industry there are potential risks from exposures to asbestos in premises and rolling stock, respirable crystalline silica in ballast dust and from cutting or grinding concrete, and diesel engine exhaust emissions. These exposures can and should be minimised if appropriate management and precautionary measures are put in place by rail companies.

There are stringent legal requirements under The COSHH Regulations 2002 (as amended) and Approved Code of Practice on the control of known or suspect carcinogens. HSE's website provides further information on the links between chemical carcinogens, solar radiation and shift work, and types of cancer as well as guidance for employers and employees on the practical control measures needed.

HSE's occupational disease web community, which focuses on promoting initiatives to reduce occupational cancer incidence, should be a useful source of advice for the rail employer. The Trade Union Congress produced guidance on occupational cancers in 2013 for employees.

We will continue raising awareness about the dangers of exposure to harmful materials at work, and the practical control measures which must be implemented, to help drive up standards of rail worker protection.   Rail employers should monitor and check that their risk management of potential exposure remains effective.

We provide advice on the requirements for companies to report certain new or worsening cases of occupational cancers under Regulation 9 of the Reporting of Injuries Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (RIDDOR).

We have published advice in railway guidance documents on diesel engine exhaust emissions pdf icon PDF, 312 Kb. Further advice on control of silica in ballast dust can be found in the Track Safety Alliance video 'Track Safety Matters Episode 2 - The Ballast Dust Story and from Network Rail's Ballast Dust Working Group.

Our web page on asbestos provides information on where asbestos is likely to be found on the railway but where the contents of a material is unknown it should be sampled to test for asbestos or assumed that it is and managed appropriately.

We are actively supporting a campaign which is being run by IOSH 'No Time to Lose' to raise awareness of carcinogenic exposure issues and help businesses take action.  Prevention really is better than cure and health needs to be managed like safety.