Chemicals cause worker’s terminal cancer

Public news

The South Australian Employment Tribunal has recently ruled that workplace chemicals caused a worker's terminal cancer (non-Hodgkin lymphoma), after identifying a "significant gap" in the available protections against direct skin exposure and has awarded the Panel Repairer's Widow Workers' Compensation Death Benefits.

During his 19 years of painting and repairing vehicles, the worker used a range of hazardous products at work containing silica dust, naptha, benzene, ethylbenzene, trimethylbenzene, trichloroethylene, xylene, toluene and other unidentified solvents. Some were associated with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Although the Tribunal found the worker used a range of personal protective equipment, there was a significant gap in the available protections against bodily absorption of solvents.

The worker’s widow testified that the worker's clothing, skin and hair always smelled strongly of chemicals when he came home from work and he and other workshop staff washed grease off their hands with the solvent Prepsol, which contained the carcinogen trichloroethylene.

The Tribunal found the worker used respirators while spray painting, but not for quick touch-ups, and wore paper or silk overalls, which exposed him to skin absorption because they tore easily or were permeable. The worker also used gloves, "but not always". Further, the effectiveness of some of the precautions taken by the worker is unknown, such as whether the charcoal cartridges in his masks were replaced as advised.

What Members need to be aware of:

The above case highlights the importance of not only supplying appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and ensuring their regular use, but also providing training on the proper use and maintenance of hazardous products and substances in the workplace.

If you require any help in regards to your WHS obligations, please contact the MTA’s Workplace Relations Department on 8291 2000 or by clicking here.