Policy context

From National Cancer Control Policy
Occupational cancers > Policy context

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Policy context

In Australia there are a number of government agencies and structures in place for development and implementation of policy addressing occupational cancer risk, including:

  • Safe Work Australia;
  • National Industrial Chemical Notification and Assessment Scheme, within the Federal Department of Health;
  • Cancer Australia, which has links with the International Agency for Research on Cancer;
  • Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority; and
  • jurisdictional work safety agencies.

Greater coordination across sectors is pivotal to reducing occupational cancer risk through evidence-based policy and regulation.

Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy 2012-2022

Overarching national occupational health and safety policy in Australia is contained in the Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy 2012-2022[1]. The strategy provides a 10-year national framework to drive improvements in work health and safety in Australia. It is aimed at all aspects of work health and safety including regulators, industry, unions, other organisations and governments.

The strategy sets out four objectives[1]:

  • reduced incidence of work-related death, injury & illness
  • reduced exposure to hazards & risks;
  • improved hazard controls; and
  • improved work health and safety infrastructure.

Cancer, and specifically skin cancer, is identified in the strategy as one of six national priority work-related disorders for the first five years of the strategy.

The strategy was developed by Safe Work Australia which operates as an independent government agency. Safe Work Australia is made up of representatives from each state and territory government and the Australian Government, as well as members representing the interests of workers and employers.

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Historically, the regulatory framework surrounding carcinogens has been complex and fragmented, partly because carcinogenic substances are variously regulated as workplace hazards, consumer products and environmental pollutants.

In 2009, Safe Work Australia began the development and evaluation of the model work health and safety laws for national implementation[2]. The model work health and safety laws are the basis for harmonised laws across Australia. The Commonwealth, states and territories are responsible for regulating and enforcing the laws in their jurisdictions. The Model Work Health and Safety Regulations and first stage Model Codes of Practice developed by Safe Work Australia have been implemented by the Federal Government and all State and Territory Governments with the exception of Victoria and Western Australia.

The federal Work Health and Safety Act 2011 commenced on January 1, 2012, with the aim to provide a balanced and nationally consistent framework to secure the health and safety of workers and workplaces. The Act aims to do this through the elimination or minimisation of risks arising from work, promoting the provision of workplace health and safety education and training and strengthening the national harmonisation of laws relating to work health and safety to facilitate a consistent national approach.

National codes of practice are in place to underpin the prohibition, control and management of scheduled carcinogenic substances in the workplace[3][4]. The extent to which Australian workers are protected against occupational carcinogens is determined by the rigour of enabling legislation and regulation, and its enforcement.

Specific carcinogens are further regulated by exposure standards (e.g. when a hazardous chemical contains a specific amount of a carcinogen) and codes of practice. For example, the Radiation Protection Standard for Occupational Exposure to Ultraviolet Radiation aims to limit occupational exposure to ultraviolet radiation from artificial sources and provides guidance on minimising occupational exposure to uncontrollable sources of ultraviolet radiation, such as the sun[5].

There is no clear and comprehensive data on the implementation and effectiveness of regulations designed to reduce occupational exposures to carcinogens across jurisdictions, and no national agency with a remit to collect and publish this important information.

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National Strategic Plan for Asbestos Awareness and Management in Australia

In June 2012 the Australian Government established the Asbestos Management Review to make recommendations for a national strategic plan to improve asbestos awareness and management.

The National Strategic Plan for Asbestos Awareness and Management 2013 – 2018 was released in July 2013. The plan sets out a national approach to asbestos eradication, handling and awareness in Australia with the aim of preventing harmful exposure to asbestos.

The Asbestos Management Review had noted that the management of asbestos is regulated by all levels of government in Australia. Local, state, territory and Commonwealth agencies operate under an array of legislative instruments to cover workplace, environmental and public health contexts. The division of responsibility had resulted in a variety of approaches to dealing with the management of harmful asbestos. The national strategic plan recommended a framework which jurisdictions work both cooperatively and independently in order to prevent exposure to asbestos. The Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency was established by the Australian Government in 2012 to promote the national strategic plan.

James Hardie

James Hardie was Australia’s largest manufacturer of asbestos-containing materials until the mid-1980s. In 2001, James Hardie established the Medical Research and Compensation Foundation (MRCF) to address all future asbestos claims. In 2004, the NSW Government commissioned a judicial inquiry into the MRCF and found funds for asbestos victims to be inadequate[6]. Following the inquiry, James Hardie agreed to pay compensation through a voluntary compensation fund.

ACT - Mr Fluffy

During the 1960s and 70s, a Canberra based company known as ‘Mr Fluffy’ installed loose-fill asbestos insulation in approximately 1000 houses in the ACT, Queanbeyan and surrounding areas. In December 2014, the ACT Government announced a buyback scheme for all houses affected by Mr Fluffy loose-fill asbestos insulation in the ACT. The ACT Government has offered to purchase all affected houses for site remediation by eradicating exposure risks to loose-fill asbestos and the demolition of these houses has commenced. The NSW Government has announced a “Make Safe” assistance package for NSW residents who have loose-fill asbestos in their homes to assist with safely managing asbestos.

Data and registries

The current approach to managing occupational cancer in Australia is limited and fragmented, creating a significant obstacle to collecting and reporting on data on carcinogen exposure in occupational settings.

To date, data collection on occupational exposures has primarily been limited to mesothelioma and asbestos exposure. In April 2010, Safe Work Australia announced that the new Australian Mesothelioma Registry would be managed by a consortium led by the Cancer Institute NSW and include some of Australia’s leading experts in asbestos related disease. The registry replaced the Australian Mesothelioma Register (which had operated since 1985) and collect notifications of all new mesothelioma cases from state and territory cancer registries and information on mesothelioma patients’ past exposures to asbestos[7].

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  1. 1.0 1.1 Safe Work Australia. Australian work health and safety strategy 2012–2022. Canberra: SWA; 2012 Oct 10 Available from: http://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/sites/SWA/about/Publications/Documents/719/Australian-WHS-Strategy-2012-2022.pdf.
  2. Safe Work Australia. Model OHS Legislation Fact Sheet. Canberra: SWA; 2009 [cited 2009 Nov 10] Available from: http://www.alrc.gov.au/sites/default/files/pdfs/CFV%2019%20Attachment%20ACCI%201.pdf.
  3. National Occupational Health and Safety Commission. National model regulations for the control of scheduled carcinogenic substances. Canberra: Safe Work Australia; 1995. Report No.: NOHSC:1011(1995). Available from: http://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/sites/SWA/about/Publications/Documents/239/NationalModelRegulationControlOfScheduledCarcinogenicSubstances_NOHSC1011-1995_PDF.pdf.
  4. National Occupational Health and Safety Commission. National code of practice for the control of scheduled carcinogenic substances [NOHSC:2014(1995)]. Safe Work Australia; 1995 Jan 1 Available from: http://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/sites/SWA/about/Publications/Documents/240/CodeOfPracticeControlOfScheduledCarcinogenicSubstances_NOHSC2014-1995_PDF.pdf.
  5. Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency. Radiation protection standards: occupational exposure to ultraviolet radiation. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia; 2006 Dec 1. Report No.: Radiation Protection Series Publication No. 12. Available from: http://www.arpansa.gov.au/pubs/rps/rps12.pdf.
  6. New South Wales. Special Commission of Inquiry into the Medical Research and Compensation Foundation. Report of the Special Commission of Inquiry into the Medical Research and Compensation Foundation. D.F. Jackson Q.C. Commissioner.; 2004 Sep Available from: http://www.dpc.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/11387/01PartA.pdf.
  7. Australian Mesothelioma Registry. Australian Mesothelioma Registry 3nd annual report. Mesothelioma in Australia 2013. Canberra: Safe Work Australia; 2014 Aug 26 Available from: http://www.mesothelioma-australia.com/media/11828/amr-3rd-data-report-final.pdf.

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