Work-related cancer is responsible for around 2,700 deaths in The Netherlands each year. Despite good initiatives to create healthy working conditions, exposure to carcinogenic substances like Respirable Crystalline Silica, welding fumes and hardwood dust is often higher than the occupational exposure limits. This means that workers are subject to unnecessary health risks. A combination of substitution of chemicals, safe-by-design of new chemicals, design of safe processes by technological solutions, effective enforcement of the regulations and behavioral change among employers and employees will lead to the end of exposure to carcinogenic substances and get the number of work-related cancer cases down to zero.
TNO is currently working in various international knowledge programs to find safer alternatives to existing carcinogenic substances (substitution) as well as to assist R&D and industry to develop safer materials and products (Safe-by-Design). Together with tool producers TNO has developed technological process solutions that greatly reduce exposure to carcinogenic substances in the workplace, such as a welding torch with a built-in source extractor that reduces the inhalation of hazardous welding fumes. Dust-free tools and ways of working are only effective if those working with them do so in the right way in the workplace and if there are adequate checks and enforcement. Employers and employees must embrace the new ways of working and apply them in practice.
In those cases where the development of safer materials and design of safer processes is not adequate, TNO develops innovative exposure measurement techniques in order to enable the collection and interpretation of personal external and internal exposures with a high resolution in time and space (i.e. Exposome). This will form the basis for collective and personalized intervention strategies.
The prevention of occupational diseases benefits those at work, employers and society: it restricts the costs of absence and work disability, it boosts employability and participation, it creates a satisfied workforce and helps workers stay healthy. The innovative technical solutions and ways of working that are available must become the norm in the workplace. In this way, work-related cancer can finally be eliminated.