It is World Lung Cancer Day during August. With research suggesting a quarter of people who suspect they may have a lung condition ignore getting it checked out by a doctor employers have an important role to play in promoting the value of lung function testing within the workplace.
Employee health and wellbeing – don’t put off getting a lung health check done
1 August is World Lung Cancer Day, the global health and wellbeing awareness-raising event co-ordinated by the American College of Chest Physicians, the Lung Cancer Survivors Foundation and the Forum of International Respiratory Societies.
The event is designed to promote knowledge and awareness of lung cancer in all its forms, including the fact lung cancer continues to be one of the most common cancers worldwide, claiming more lives yearly than breast, colon and prostate cancers combined. In fact, it is estimated that lung cancer accounts for nearly one in five cancer deaths globally.
For employers, lung cancer and occupational asthma remain very much “live” health and safety and health and wellbeing issues, as evidenced by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health’s “No Time to Lose” campaign and the fact the Health and Safety Executive has a dedicated occupational cancer webpage.
Screening and risk management
Occupational asthma is, clearly, something that needs to be carefully risk managed and screened for, especially if your organisation is working in areas where employees may be exposed to dust, flour, silica, asbestos or other carcinogens.
More widely, while rates of smoking may be a record low levels now in the UK, there is a still a job to be done in terms of ensuring employees are being encouraged to get their lungs and lung function regularly checked.
The British Lung Foundation, for example, in June warned that a quarter of people who suspect they might have a lung condition do not consult a doctor about their symptoms.
It estimated that some two million people might have undiagnosed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, yet many pass it off as simply a side-effect of getting older.
A study of 350,000 responses to the foundation’s online breath test found that 20% claimed their lives were significantly limited by breathlessness. Yet around a quarter said they had not seen their GP about their concerns.
Don’t ignore breathlessness
Breathlessness can of course have many causes, including a lack of fitness and being overweight, but it may also be a sign of a potential lung or heart problem.
Air pollution can also exacerbate underlying breathing issues, with the British Safety Council in May urging the Health and Safety Executive to treat ambient air pollution as an occupational health issue, particularly for staff who work outdoors.
As Dr Lucy Wright, Optima Health Chief Medical Officer points out, there are nowadays many digital health assessment tools employers can turn to – including Optima’s Health Optimise online platform – to encourage and facilitate such testing.
“Tools such as Optimise, and others, can help employees check if they’re at risk of developing conditions such as diabetes, cancer, dementia, cardiovascular disease and lung cancer.
“As the British Lung Foundation’s study shows it is all-too easy to dismiss health conditions such as breathlessness as simply a fact of life or part of the ageing process when, in fact, there may be an underlying health condition that would benefit from treatment or intervention.
“Health promotion and awareness-raising around the value of regular testing can be a valuable addition to regular smoking cessation activities and risk assessment or screening if there is a risk of exposure to materials that could cause occupational health.
“A calendar marker such as World Lung Cancer Day, even though it is not a workplace health-specific event, can be a useful way of kickstarting activity, conversation or reflection around how you are doing as an organisation in this context,” she adds.