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Survey yields ill findings

The first results are now emerging from an extensive Norwegian study to identify the risk of cancer among offshore employees. Launched in 1999, this project has embraced 27 000 people.

The overall incidence of cancer among offshore workers does not deviate much from the average for the Norwegian population, according to a preliminary report from the study.

Published by the Cancer Registry of Norway in December, this survey nevertheless found that male employees on the NCS have a higher risk of contacting two types of the disease.  One is acute myelogenous leukaemia, possibly from exposure to oil products such as benzene, and the other is cancer of the costal pleura (chest lining).  Asbestos is the commonest cause.

Both leukaemia and cancer of the chest lining have been work-related diseases, and possible exposure to their causes among study participants could have contributed to their development.  The Cancer Registry accordingly fi nds it likely that the increase is genuine and linked to working conditions. How far it derives from offshore or earlier jobs is hard to determine.

The study covered everyone employed in the petroleum industry at the time it was launched, and who also satisfi ed specifi ed criteria.

“The goal has been to monitor this group for new cancer incidence and the causes,” explains Sigvart Zachariassen, PSA discipline leader for the working environment. “It takes a long time to get results from a survey of this kind.

“Indications that the risk of contracting leukaemia is higher are not unexpected. A study from the University of Bergen in 2007 pointed in the same direction.  “It’s important that the industry now reassures itself that this enhanced chance of getting certain forms of cancer isn’t attributable to workplace exposure.”

Pursued alongside the Cancer Registry’s project, the University of Bergen study sought to identify and assess carcinogens and other factors present on the NCS from the start.

This information will now be integrated with the other survey to see if any trends can be identifi ed –such as whether certain groups have been exposed to a higher level of risk.

“Much good work has been done to identify cancer incidence and learn about conditions infl uencing the risk of such disease in the petroleum sector,” reports Mr Zachariassen.

“We’ve pushed actively for these studies. However, our most important message has been that the industry must maintain a precautionary attitude at all times and have a preventive strategy which refl ects the slow development of many medical conditions. 

“Effective measures which remain viable over time can only be established through solid scientifi c work, high-quality risk analyses and documentation of results.”