Workplace Illnesses

Researchers Examine Workplace Cancer Links

Researchers estimate that workplace exposure is the source of up to 6 percent of all cancers worldwide.
By: | March 31, 2014 • 2 min read

Workplace exposures are among the environmental factors believed to be responsible for cancer, say researchers. They estimate between 3 and 6 percent of all cancers worldwide are caused by workplace exposures to carcinogens. That translates to as many as 762,000 new cancers each year from occupational exposure, which they say is likely an underestimate. In the U.S., scientists estimate there were between 43,695 and 87,399 new occupational-related cancers in 2010, the most recent year available.

“Cancers that occur as a result of exposures in the workplace are preventable, if exposures to known or suspected carcinogens can be reduced,” wrote researchers on a blog post for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. The agency is doing studies to identify agents in the workplace associated with the development of cancer.


Recent findings include:

Lung cancer among non-metal miners in which “risk was significantly associated with diesel exhaust exposure.” The results of that study were part of a decision by the International Agency for Research on Cancer to designate diesel exhaust as a Group 1 — known human — carcinogen.

Highly elevated incidence of bladder cancer among rubber manufacturing workers that was strongly associated with workplace ortho-toluidine exposure. The findings influenced the IARC’s recent determination of ortho-toluidine to be a Group 1 carcinogen.

Higher than expected rates of cancers, especially mesothelioma and cancers of the respiratory and digestive tract, among firefighters in Chicago, Philadelphia, and San Francisco. “Recent findings about mesothelioma and lung cancer related to asbestos exposure have shed new light on the importance of size and shape on the carcinogenicity of that well studied agent,” NIOSH said. “These findings may have important implications for future risk assessments of the hazards associated with asbestos exposure.”

The research has helped influence the development of risk-based exposure limit recommendations by national and international organizations. The agency is seeking input from stakeholders on priorities for future epidemiological research of potential occupational carcinogens.

Nancy Grover is the president of NMG Consulting and the Editor of Workers' Compensation Report, a publication of our parent company, LRP Publications. She can be reached at [email protected]

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.


That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.


Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]