Finland offers a good model for preventing work-related cancer

Finland participated in the World Congress on Safety and Health at Work in Singapore and presented its activities in preventing work-related cancer.

Pirkko Mattila, Minister of Social Affairs and Health, reminded in her speech that carcinogenic agents must be identified at workplaces, and any exposure to them must be assessed.  Exposure to carcinogenic agents can be prevented in the same way as exposure to other chemicals. “We have so far 450 national occupational exposure limit values in addition to the EU binding and indicative occupational exposure limit values. Our experience is that when all parties have agreed on the limit values, they are easier to implement into practice”, Minister Mattila told. The national values are agreed on in a tripartite subcommittee of the national Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health.

According to Minister Mattila, making tripartite agreements between employers, employees and the central government has in Finland proved to be a good way to promote occupational safety and health.

It is estimated that 5.3 – 8.4 per cent of all cancers diagnosed in Finland are work-related. In Europe, workplace exposure is estimated to cause some 120,000 cases of cancer each year. Globally, the leading cause of work-related cancer is asbestos. This is the case in Finland as well. Even though Finland and many other countries have banned the use of asbestos, we are not expecting that the situation would change in the near future. The long latency periods for cancer mean that people are diagnosed with cancer some 20–30 years after exposure.

In 2006, the Council of Europe together with employer and employee organisations from many countries made an agreement on reducing the exposure to asbestos.  According to the agreement, the parties committed to map health risks caused by respirable crystalline silica, both from the point of view of the whole workplace and individual employees. Minister Mattila told that “during the years 1994 – 2013, we see over ten-fold decrease in the average and median exposures to respirable silica”. This is a good example of how effective tripartite agreements are also on EU level.


Every third year, the International Labour Organization ILO and the International Social Security Association ISSA organise a World Congress on Safety & Health. The event is taking place in Singapore from 3 till 6 September 2017. The congress is the biggest event in the field of occupational safety and health, and over 3,000 international OSH stakeholders from more than 100 countries will attend the congress. These congresses have been organised since 1955.


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