Workplace Cancer Victims Missing Out
A new report by the Cancer Council estimates that less than eight per cent of people with cancer stemming from the workplace receive compensation due to under-reporting and uncertainty about causes of the cancer.
The report titled Occupational Exposures to Carcinogens in Australia examined workers’ compensation claims paid between 2000 and 2012. It found occupational exposures to carcinogens caused 5,000 new cases of cancer each year, and that approximately 3.6 million Australians could be exposed to one or more carcinogens at work.
The report said new analysis of cancer causes found that the risk of getting cancer from the workplace was almost double what had previously been thought. Around 6.5 per cent of all new cancer cases are now estimated to stem from exposure at the workplace.
A total of 4,745 claims were made for occupationally related cancers over the twelve years of the study – an average 395 claims per year. “This was at a total cost of $360 million at an average cost of $30 million per year,” the report said.
The vast majority of the claims were for skin cancers and mesotheliomas. Three quarters of the total compensation payments were for mesotheliomas.
“It appears that over the last decade less than eight per cent of cancer cases that have been caused in some part due to occupational exposure have been compensated,” the report said. “Reasons for under-compensation may include a lack of awareness of occupational risk factors for cancer among workers and health professionals, along with the inherent difficulties in assigning a specific case to an occupational cause.”
The report said many cancer victims did not realise their cancer could stem from exposure at work such as through second hand tobacco smoke, diesel exhaust, wood dust, silica dust, heavy metals, pesticides, benzene and radon gas. It said thousands of new cancers were caused by these sort of occupational exposures every year, but only 10 successful compensation claims for these types of exposure were made for the entire 12 year period.
Nathan Luke, workplace law specialist at Stacks Law Firm, said the figures were shocking. “This means that 92 per cent of people who contract cancer through work have not received any compensation.”
He said people who suspect their cancer may stem from their workplace should seek legal advice as to whether they might have a claim.
“At the same time employers and those responsible for the wellbeing of workers at the workplace should get legal advice on whether they are doing all they can to comply with workplace safety laws. Business learned the hard way when it came to the impact of asbestos.”