Breast Cancer is an Important Workplace Health and Safety Issue

Tonie Beharrell, the lawyer representing Katrina Hammer, Patricia Schmidt and Anne MacFarlane who claimed they had developed breast cancer as a result of conditions in their laboratory workplace, was quoted, after the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in their favour on June 24th 2016 saying,  “Hopefully workers who have been hesitant to argue causation will be encouraged to pursue their claims, knowing that they don’t actually need a medical opinion that says ‘your work caused your cancer’” She continued, “They can rely on a range of evidence to make those claims.”

Some of the evidence used during the case included (from APPELLANTS' FACTUM):

a. Likely past exposure by laboratory technicians at the workplace to solvents and reagents which were known carcinogens;

b. Past complaints of poor air quality due to incineration of very odorous and potentially hazardous compounds;

c. A finding that the workers' cancers were part of a larger and statistically significant "cancer cluster" at the hospital laboratory: laboratory workers at the hospital were experiencing breast cancer at approximately 8 times the rate of women in the general BC population;

d. A body of scientific literature which demonstrated an association between laboratory technicians and increased cancer levels.

This is the first time in Canada that any woman has established compensation for this disease in spite of the overwhelming evidence of the risks that so many women face.

Read the article on the Vancouver Sun website: Lab environment in Mission led to cancer, court rules

Read the article from CBCnews: B.C. healthcare workers win breast cancer claim against Fraser Health Authority

Read the full Supreme Court decision: British Columbia (Workers’ Compensation Appeal Tribunal) v. Fraser Health Authority


Drs Jim Brophy and Margaret Keith are lead authors of Breast cancer risk in relation to occupations with exposure to carcinogens and endocrine disruptors: a Canadian case-control study, published in Environmental Health (November 2012). Their research which involved over 2100 women demonstrated how Ontario automotive workers and those working in food canning plants were five times more likely to have breast cancer before menopause than other women living similar lives. This research into occupational exposures and breast cancer was co-winner of the American Public Health Association (APHA) Scientific Award in the Occupational Health category. Read the full study here

Breast cancer research has long neglected occupational and environmental hazards. However the science linking breast cancer and occupational risk factors is growing. The American Public Health Association (APHA) has issued an important policy statement calling for making research on breast cancer as an occupational health and safety issue a priority. Read the APHA Policy Statement.