The Australian Institute of Petroleum (AIP) member companies welcome the results of the industry’s 12th Health Watch report which reveal that employees of the petroleum companies involved in Health Watch are less likely than Australians in the general population to die of the diseases which commonly cause death - including heart and respiratory conditions as well as cancer.
Health Watch is an independent, university-based research program commissioned by the AIP in 1980. It follows 19,000 past and present employees of the petroleum industry. Participation in the Health Watch program is voluntary and has an extraordinarily high participation rate with over 95 per cent of relevant employees.
The latest report builds on the results of the eleven preceding reports in demonstrating conclusively that overall death rates from cancer in the petroleum industry are lower than in the general population. The overall cancer rate (cancers which have not resulted in death) is no different to that for other Australians. This is also the case with acute non-lymphatic leukaemia, which has previously been associated with exposure to benzene. Benzene exposures have reduced significantly in the oil industry since the 1980s and it is possible that the findings of the 12th Report may reflect the positive impact of lower benzene exposures.
Where conditions relating to exposure to asbestos were reported, the study indicates that such exposure attributable to sources within the industry was likely to have occurred before 1970, while in other cases the condition resulted from exposure before entering the industry. The overall conclusion of the study is that working in the petroleum industry does not lead to increased risk of asbestos-related disease.
In recent years, participants in the Health Watch program have reported higher levels of skin cancer than would be expected. It seems that this is likely to have resulted from workers in the petroleum industry having their condition diagnosed earlier than would be the case for the general population. There is no evidence that higher than normal rates of skin cancer are related to conditions in the workplace and the death rates for these cancers is not increased among petroleum industry employees compared to the general population.
While the latest report reveals a higher level of kidney cancer among tanker drivers than might be expected, the numbers are too small to draw any firm conclusion without further monitoring and analysis. Kidney cancer will continue to be monitored and be further analysed in the 13th report due to be completed in 2007.
The Health Watch study was transferred in 2005 from the University of Adelaide to Monash University to take advantage of related epidemiology programs at Monash.
AIP continues to support the Health Watch program because it is valued by the petroleum companies, and their employees, and provides benefits to the community at large.
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