Worldwide, there are 13 million new cases of cancer and 7.6 million deaths every year. Nearly two thirds of these deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries. A large proportion of all cancers are due to exposure to carcinogens in the environment or workplace.

Around 8,000 deaths in Britain each year are caused by occupational cancers. That equates to about five percent of all cancer deaths. However, it is difficult to determine a true figure for occupational cancers because of the latent nature of the disease. An individual might be exposed to a cause of cancer and not develop any noticeable symptoms until many years later. With current work patterns of people moving between different job roles and companies, it can be difficult to determine a specific exposure or cause.

OSH practitioners are often in an ideal position to be able to notice the first signs of occupational illness, and alert managers, so that early intervention can be planned. However, there is also a need to expand their role into new skill areas, and add to their knowledge, so that they can provide support to others helping with rehabilitation.

They are often more comfortable with environmental solutions, but sometimes work adaptations will need to be more than physical ones. Leka et al. (2008) highlighted the need for OSH professionals to develop knowledge of health surveillance and to be able to identify emerging risks to engage with the health agenda.

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