Occupational Cancer: A Real Work Risk

Often the International Agency for Research on Cancer lists several types of substances that are both known carcinogens and related to certain occupations. It is common to expect that some work comes with a cancer risk, such as tobacco use on the worksite, alcohol use in certain industries, and the prevalence of shift work. However, these are not even the largest contributors to cancer in the workplace.

According to the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS), around 10,000 cancer cases in Canada are due to exposure to cancer-causing agents in the workplace. Solar radiation due to working outside is the number one cause of workplace cancer, with around 1.4 million workers exposed to it. 4,600 non-melanoma skin cancer cases a year are due to solar radiation.

The inhalation of several carcinogens make up the second largest bulk of workplace cancer risks. Diesel engine exhaust, crystalline silica and asbestos inhalation result in around 3,000 cases of lung cancer a year, as well as dozens of cases of mesothelioma, ovarian and bladder cancer cases. CCS predicts that hundreds of thousands of workers are exposed to these carcinogens each year.

Based on this information, it’s easy to see which professions have an increased risk of cancer. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) lists several dozen, including woodworking and manufacturing, chemical production, petroleum refining, smelting, mining, luxury goods production, construction, automotive jobs and even food production. Click here for the full list.

In January, we posted an article about how firefighting was listed as a Group 1 carcinogen by the IARC. Click here to read more on that, and learn about how the International Association of Fire Fighters is working to combat the hazards of the profession.

Luckily, the Workplace Hazardous Material Information System, or WHMIS, has protections in place to ensure that cancer causing agents can be safely handled. Hazardous control programs lay out the steps needed for workers to know how to handle such substances, and information is out there to reduce exposure.

However, with thousands of cancer cases diagnosed each year as a result of the workplace, the Canadian Cancer Survivor Network urges people to know the risks of their profession, and strive to make sure they and their employers lower that risk for all. Because on the National Day of Mourning, zero workplace deaths as a result of occupational cancer is the goal.

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