Occupational Safety and Health Series, No. 39

Occupational cancer - prevention and control

This publication represents a first step in providing guidance for the implementation of the principles set forth in the ILO Convention and Recommendation concerning prevention and control of occupational hazards caused by carcinogenic substances and agents. It covers issues like preventive measures, exposure monitoring, and medical supervision and it includes the relevant normative texts.

The International Labour Conference discussed at two successive sessions, in 1973 and 1971, the principles for the organisation of technical and medical prevention, and finally adopted two international instruments, a Convention (No. 139) and a Recommendation (No. 147) concerning the prevention and control of occupational hazards caused by carcinogenic substances and agents.

The Convention states the most essential principles: replacement of carcinogenic substances by less dangerous ones; establishment of a list of carcinogens to be prohibited, or made subject to authorisation or to control; recording of data concerning exposure and exposed workers; medical surveillance; information and education. In the Recommendation, these principles are expanded and member States are invited, when implementing the provisions of the instruments, to take into account guides and other technical publications prepared by the ILO. The intention of the Conference was therefore to lay down general principles for implementation at the national level of the specific and detailed measures required and for the development of adequate control programmes.

Recognising the difficulties of action in this field, the 1975 session of the International Labour Conference also adopted two resolutions related to the problems of occupational cancer. The first refers to the adverse social and economic consequences, both for the workers and for the industry which may follow the implementation of strict preventive and protective measures prescribed by national legislation, and methods of meeting the hardships involved; the second asks for the establishment of an appropriate consultation mechanism to be used by the ILO in order to provide up-to-date information on the results of research and on the most effective methods of preventing occupational cancer.