Union blasts chip industry's 'cancer risk denial'
Semiconductor bosses say no need for UK-wide study
The UK’s largest trade union has slammed the semiconductor industry after it told the British government that a national study to look into the effects of work-related cancer in the chip biz was unnecessary.
Unite said today that it was perplexed by senior bosses at chip firms who insist that there was “no clear evidence” that show people working in their plants were dangerously exposed to health risks.
According to the union, the semiconductor industry said it “does not accept there is a need to conduct an industry-wide study".
Health and Safety Minister Lord McKenzie had written to key execs in the semiconductor industry to raise some of the concerns expressed by Unite.
The union has been pushing for industry-wide research into cancer risks in the computer and semiconductor manufacturing industry since the publication of the HSE/DTI Feasibility study in 2005.
Unite national officer Peter Skyte said in a statement: "This is in our view an Alice in Wonderland approach. It is precisely because there is no clear evidence that we, the government and the HSE see the need for a national study.
“If there were compelling evidence of an increased risk of occupational cancer, there would not be a need for the study.”
In October 2006 a study of workers at computer plants in the US highlighted an “elevated” chance of contracting and dying of cancer.
Research conducted by US academic Richard Clapp and published in Environmental Health, covered 31,941 individuals who died between 1969 and 2001, and who had spent five years or more working in computer or semiconductor manufacturing plants.
The study found death rates for all cancers were elevated in both males and females who had worked in computer plants. The data Clapp used was produced during a US lawsuit in which IBM was sued by former plant workers.
Last November AMD was hit by a birth defects lawsuit from an ex-employee who worked at one of the firm's fab plants. She claimed that exposure to hazardous chemicals during pregnancy had caused multiple birth defects in her son.
At the time AMD responded to the accusation by saying: "We take the health and safety of our employees very seriously. We have a long history of supporting independent research on health and safety in semiconductor manufacturing and are confident in our systems and procedures."
We requested comment from AMD and Intel, but neither was immediately available at time of writing. ®
From the same AC who posted 'Re: Exposure to toxic chemicals?':
Don't get me wrong - I'm all for research and investigation. My point was that the obvious safety measures such as PPE are (in my experience) in place but that doesn't mean the risk is mitigated. I was defending the companies but only to an extent. The fact that they don't have deaths every day means they must be doing something for health and safety, but it doesn't mean they aren't leaving people ill years later.
You're quite right about data sheets not keeping up too. I've used chemicals that were 'too new' to have any proper safety data sheets - just an educated guess that they would have similar effects to similar chemicals i.e. carcinogenic.
"Of course" staff are provided with PPE?
The semiconductor industry has been around a long time, operated in different countries and to different standards in different workplaces.
Talking about PPE assumes that PPE protects effectively against the hazard, and at the moment nobody is claiming to understand what the hazard is/was. As an unconnected example, I remember being told to use an extractor because or rosin fumes from soldering, then finding out that the filter was for particles many times larger than the rosin particles.
I think the other problem is that companies and workers tend to base their protective measures on data sheets and regulations. The problem is that industries such as semiconductor manufacturing have changed their substances and processes faster than reliable data or regulation can keep up.
UNITE is right to call for research so that action can be based on evidence rather than guesswork. To those who think a report would just become wallpaper, that might be the wish of those in the industry who are currently resisting writing it, but would workers in the industry and their unions ignore it? I don't think so.
Re: Exposure to toxic chemicals?
Of course staff are provided with PPE. They are trained to use it and disciplined if they don't follow safety procedures. At least this was the case in the one fab I've worked in.
You have to understand that the manufacturing of semiconductors is inherently very hazardous. Just looking at the chemical exposure side of things - there is arsenic, various solvents and hydrofluoric acid to name a few. Anyone doing invasive work on a tool which contains arsenic is provided with gloves, respirator, etc. and has regular urine tests to monitor exposure. The area they are working in will also be cordoned off for the duration of the work. However it is possible that contamination will spread and a 100% guaranteed containment is just not feasible.
Another potential cause of cancer might (allegedly) be radiation from ion implanters. Naturally these are heavily shielded and periodically checked but some will always get through no matter how thick the shielding.
In short - they are very mindfull of health and safety but maybe it's not enough.