5 Common Cancer Risks Among Industrial Field-Level Workers

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Cancer is a formidable adversary that affects millions of lives each year, and its reach extends to all corners of the world. While multiple factors contribute to the development of cancer, some individuals are at a higher risk due to the nature of their work. 

Among those most vulnerable are industry workers, who frequently encounter hazardous substances and conditions in their daily routines. In this article, we will explore five common cancer risks that industry workers face. 

#1 Exposure to Carcinogenic Chemicals

In many industrial settings, chemicals such as benzene, formaldehyde, asbestos, and various solvents are used in various processes. These chemicals, according to the CDC, can be inhaled, absorbed through the skin, or ingested, leading to potential cancer risks. The risk is particularly high for those working in the chemical, petroleum, and manufacturing industries.

Benzene, for example, can increase the risk of developing leukemia, a condition that affects the blood and bone marrow. Similarly, asbestos, once commonly used for its insulation properties, can lead to lung cancer and mesothelioma when its fibers become airborne and are inhaled. 

Exposure to toxic chemicals can also happen in emergency situations, such as when trying to tackle a fire. According to TruLaw, this was the exact reason that led to the AFFF lawsuits. 

The Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) was used in various industries to put out fires. It was eventually brought to light that the AFFF firefighting foam was linked to numerous types of cancer. Several individuals who developed cancer due to AFFF exposure filed an AFFF lawsuit each. The AFFF lawsuit settlement amounts could range from $10,000 to over $300,000. The money will be used to compensate the AFFF victims for their medical bills and other losses.

Exposure to some of these chemicals can’t be avoided at all in some industries. Therefore, employers need to provide their field-level workers with proper personal protection equipment before they come in contact with these chemicals. At the same time, it’s also necessary for employers to look into harmless alternatives for these chemicals if possible. 

#2 Exposure to Radiation

Certain field-level workers, like those employed in the nuclear and radiological sectors, face an elevated risk of cancer due to exposure to ionizing radiation.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), ionizing radiation can damage the DNA within cells, potentially leading to the development of cancer. Occupations such as nuclear power plant employees who use X-rays are at risk.

For instance, radiologic technologists who administer radiation therapy must adhere to strict safety protocols to protect themselves from ionizing radiation exposure. Failure to do so can result in a higher risk of cancer, particularly of the thyroid, breast, or skin. 

Employers in these industries must prioritize the use of protective barriers, proper training, and regular monitoring to safeguard the health of their workers.

#3 Airborne Particulate Matter

Workers in various industries are exposed to airborne particulate matter, which includes dust, fumes, and other fine particles. These substances can penetrate the respiratory system, leading to inflammation and cellular damage, ultimately increasing the risk of lung cancer.

Some of the most vulnerable industry workers include miners, construction laborers, and foundry workers.

Miners, for example, are exposed to respirable crystalline silica dust, which is known to cause lung cancer and silicosis. Similarly, construction workers often encounter a variety of airborne particulate matter. These include asbestos, lead, and diesel exhaust particles, all of which are associated with an increased risk of lung cancer.

These workers must wear appropriate personal protective equipment, such as masks and respirators, to reduce their exposure to airborne carcinogens.

#4 Shift Work and Disrupted Sleep Patterns

An often-overlooked cancer risk among industry workers is the disruption of sleep patterns due to shift work. Workers in industries like manufacturing, transportation, and emergency services often work night shifts or irregular hours, leading to disrupted circadian rhythms. 

As reported by the Sleep Foundation, disrupted sleep patterns and circadian rhythms have been linked to an increased risk of certain types of cancer. Among them, breast and prostate cancer are very common.

Research suggests that exposure to artificial light at night, a common occurrence for shift workers, can interfere with the body’s production of melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that regulates sleep-wake cycles and has anti-cancer properties.

To mitigate this risk, employers should provide adequate lighting and break facilities for shift workers. At the same time, they must also promote healthy sleep habits and regular check-ups for early detection.

#5 Noise Pollution and Occupational Hearing Loss

Noise pollution is a common occupational hazard for industry workers, especially those in construction, manufacturing, and heavy machinery operations. Prolonged exposure to high levels of noise can lead to occupational hearing loss. This condition has been associated with an increased risk of certain cancers, including colorectal and bladder cancer.

The exact mechanisms linking noise pollution and cancer are not fully understood. However, it is believed that chronic stress and sleep disturbances caused by noisy work environments may play a role.

To reduce the risk, employers should implement noise control measures, provide appropriate hearing protection, and promote hearing conservation programs.

Conclusion

The work of industry workers is hard as it is. The fact that certain working conditions can lead to the development of cancer makes matters worse. Hence, employers who hire workers for such type of work must exercise extreme caution to ensure the well-being of their workers. Only then will it be possible to minimize cancer risk among industrial field-level workers. 

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