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Workplace Carcinogens Forum

Could you be getting cancer from your workplace?  Not something most people think about, but the reality is that every year as many as 400 people die from a cancer that was caused by something they were exposed to at work.

“These are avoidable cancers. Our workers need to be better protected when they are on the job,” says the Cancer Society’s spokesperson Barbara Hegan.

With this in mind the Cancer Society, in conjunction with the Centre for Public Health Research (CPHR) at Massey University, hosted a day-long forum to look at some of the issues. This was the first such forum to be held in New Zealand.

“We decided the time was right to start encouraging people with the power to look at how they can better protect people who work in jobs that might be putting them at risk. We are hoping that by beginning the conversation we can encourage change to start happening in workplaces.”

And it’s not just obvious places where changes need to be made. A recent report from CPHR gave an idea of the range of possible cancer-causing agents many people are exposed to. These include better known ones like asbestos and ultraviolet radiation, but there’s also things like wood dust, silica, and diesel smoke - all potentially cancer-causing.

Another challenge is - do we know how big the problem really is? “A key step we see as part of any change is to start capturing occupation, as a category in the cancer registry. This will help us understand the true extent of what the problem might be. At the moment most researchers are guessing,” says Hegan.

We need to have good information if we are to make good changes. The forum was our way of saying ‘time to start making some changes!’ These are cancers we can do something about preventing.”

The forum was held at Te Papa Museum on Thursday 28 November, 2013.



Hon Amy Adams, Minister for the Environment

Dr Aaron Blair, Scientist Emeritus, National Cancer Institute

Prof Gregor Coster, WorkSafe New Zealand



Dr Rob Armstrong, Hawkes Bay Hospital

Kerry Cheung, Centre for Public Health Research, Massey University

Dr Mark Foley, Skin Clinic Marlborough

Dr Dave McLean, Centre for Public Health Research, Massey University

Assoc Prof Tony Reeder, Cancer Society Social Behavioural Research Unit, University of Otago

Terry Slevin, Cancer Council Western Australia

Dr Andrea 't Mannetje, Centre for Public Health Research, Massey University



Rob Forlong, Chief Executive, Environmental Protection Authority   

John Monigatti, Director, ACC Workwise 

Prof Gregor Coster, Chair of the Establishment Board,  WorkSafe New Zealand

Prof Bill Glass, Centre for Public Health Research, Massey University

Ian Wright, Vice President, New Zealand Professional Firefighters Union

Paul Mackay, Manager Employment Relations Policy, Business New Zealand

Dr Aaron Blair, Scientist Emeritus, National Cancer Institute


28 November 2013, Thursday


Te Papa Museum, Wellington