Workplace Roulette: Gambling With Cancer

Workplace Roulette: Gambling With Cancer

Workplace Roulette: Gambling With Cancer Written by: Matthew Firth, James Brophy & Margaret Keith ISBN 0-9680644-0-X 78 Pages $14.00 Published by Between The Lines

This article is based on the book: Workplace Roulette: Gambling With Cancer  Written  by: Matthew Firth, James Brophy & Margaret Keith  ISBN 0-9680644-0-X  78 Pages $14.00 Published by Between The Lines

The authors, Matthew Firth, Jim Brophy, and Margaret Keith, are Canadian health and safety specialists with the Windsor Occupational Health Service and the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers-Windsor.  If they were health and safety specialists working in the United States, they  would not be allowed to write this book.  (In 1981, Peter Infante, a scientist for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was almost fired for writing a letter, on OSHA letterhead, to the World Health Organization that formaldehyde caused cancer in laboratory animals.)

This excellent book, written in language that everyone can understand, explains that safety rules and regulations (or lack thereof) guarantee that cancer is part of the hazards of work.

The employers and the government play “Russian Roulette” with workers lives as they assess the risks of cancer in relation to the costs of production.  While all workers are at a high risk for cancer,     Blue Collar workers are constantly exposed to carcinogens (cancer causing substances).  Poor people, like residents of Contra Costa County in California living near a cluster of oil refineries, are also at a higher risk for cancer than the general population.

The book describes different examples from asbestos exposures to cancer amongst auto workers and how people and fought and struggled against occupational cancer   Since I am a painter with cancer, it is important to me that they pointed out that “occupational exposure as a painter is carcinogenic.”*

The authors write that “blue collar workers are being treated like test subjects for the effects of Industrial chemicals. ” They quote Peter Infante when he spoke to deaf ears before the President’s Cancer Panel in 1994 when he said:

. . .In the early 1900’s, canaries were routinely taken down into the mines.  The men used these canaries to give them the first sign of possible disaster or death.  When the canaries passed out or died, the men knew there was a problem with exposure to carbon monoxide and immediate action was needed. . . .

The analogy here is clear.  Blue-collar workers appear to be canaries in our society for identifying human chemical  carcinogens in the general environment. (Today, their plight is even worse because we are paying little attention to their deaths.)  The fact that occupational cancer is a sentinel for identifying carcinogenic exposures in the general environment is reason alone to justify and intensified cancer research effort in the workplace.”    The environmental movement produced OSHA and the EPA in the 1970’s.  These agencies and others proposed tighter regulations in 1978 to lower exposures to carcinogens and other health hazards.  They estimated that 20-40% of all cancers were related to occupation.  In response to this different Industrial and/or corporate organizations developed their own “peer reviewed” scientific organizations to refute the government’s scientists.  In a bipartisan effort by both the Republican and Democratic Parties, these standards were never implemented.

In fact all government regulations became compromises between science and industry.  In fact, industry controls most science and the government.    The authors point out the huge costs and drain upon health care to society brought about by cancer.  They point out::

As we move towards the end of the twentieth century, the irrational nature of our economic system is becoming more apparent.  How can an economy capable of producing all the goods and services imaginable be unable to eradicate a disease that is almost totally preventable?  It is not just money that widens the divide between the rich and the poor, it’s a sense of what really matters.

Today, in the United States, four out of every ten people will get cancer.  These people are being denied their rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  These are human rights that were the battle cry of the American Revolution.  In past articles on the environment I always closed with a pitch for socialism as a solution.  Ultimately, a socialist society is necessary.

In the here and now, a movement demonstrating for human rights to clean air, pure food and a safe environment; is absolutely necessary  to begin to secure a future for humanity.

*This determination was made by the International Agency for Research on Cancer in 1989.

TO ORDER WORKPLACE ROULETTE Gambling With Cancer, please mail a check or money order payable to WOHIS for $14 ($12 for the book + $2 postage) to: WOHIS, 547 Victoria Avenue, Windsor, Ontario, CANADA, N9A 4N1. e-mail: