Few workers get cancer payouts

Bethany Hiatt
Few workers get cancer payouts

Less than 10 per cent of people diagnosed with cancer caused by their work get any compensation, a report has revealed.

A review of workers compensation claims released today by the Cancer Council of WA says an average of about 395 claims a year were made for work-related cancers, resulting in payouts of $30 million, but that was a fraction of those who could possibly apply.

The recent analysis suggests exposure to known cancer-causing agents at work such as dust, chemicals and diesel exhaust could contribute to 6.5 per cent of all cancers diagnosed each year, or up to 5000 new cases a year.

This meant more than 90 per cent of people diagnosed with a work-related cancer had not received compensation.

Report author Terry Slevin, chairman of Cancer Council Australia's occupational and environmental cancers committee, said the $360 million in workers' compensation paid for occupational cancers between 2000 and 2012 was the tip of the iceberg.

The report said reasons for the under-compensation could include a lack of awareness of occupational risk factors for cancer and difficulty in proving the cancer was caused by the workplace.

Even though skin cancers accounted for the most workplace cancer compensation claims at 77 per cent, mesothelioma from asbestos accounted for 72 per cent of compensation payouts.

The most common cancer-causing agents in the workplace include sun exposure, diesel engine exhaust, shiftwork, benzene, wood dust, silica and formaldehyde.

Mr Slevin said more awareness of risks associated with different occupations was needed and employers had to improve efforts to protect workers from cancer, such as using extraction fans. "Risk factors like asbestos and UV are well known, but there are other exposures and jobs that are linked to cancer risk that need further awareness, such as exposure to diesel, wood dust through cabinet-making and metal production," he said.

"We should be able to carry out a day's work . . . without being at risk of cancer. We also need to make sure those affected are properly compensated."