Dr Ian Gardner, one of Australia's most prominent occupational and environmental medicine specialists will be speaking at The Safety Conference currently being held in Sydney.
The Safety Conference hosted by the Safety Institute of Australia is organised by Australian Exhibitions & Conferences .
Dr Gardner begins by saying that genetic screening is likely to become a routine part of workplace safety.
While a single level of exposure was declared safe for everyone earlier, exposure levels and their effects are influenced by factors such as age, race, sex, pre-existing health conditions, lifestyle, pregnancy status and genes.
For example, some people are hypersensitive to the organophosphates in some pesticides. If they happen to work in the pest control industry, they might get sick within a few months and leave the industry.
Others get splashed regularly and keep on working in pest control for years with no apparent ill effects on their health. Genetic screening, says Dr Gardner can identify who will get sick before coming into contact with these chemicals.
Dr Gardner says genetic factors also play a role in who will fall ill to asbestos exposure and draws parallels with engineered carbon nanotubes that are increasingly being used in everything from tennis racquets to personal body armour.
He explains that nanotubes and asbestos fibres have a similar size and shape, and neither can be easily broken down by the body. Like asbestos fibres, inhaled nanotubes cause chronic inflammation in animals that can trigger cancers.
Although people currently working with engineered nanomaterials in laboratories and high-tech manufacturing facilities are adequately protected, in the absence of human exposure data it is difficult to know the consequences of engineered nanoparticulates getting out into the environment or getting into the food, water and sewerage systems.
Dr Gardner says research has also uncovered a potential new occupational exposure route through the nose, up the olfactory nerve and straight into the brain, bypassing the blood-brain barrier that protects humans against so many chemicals.
According to Dr Gardner, occupational health and safety (OH&S) professionals need to begin debating the right balance between the potential benefits of genetic screening and the many concerns that surround it.
Dr Gardner will speak at The Safety Conference hosted by the Safety Institute of Australia, which will run from Tuesday October 26 to Thursday October 28 at the Sydney Showground, Sydney Olympic Park.