Occupational cancers are those that occur due to exposure to carcinogenic (cancer-causing) agents in the workplace. Occupational exposure to carcinogens are estimated to cause over 5,000 new cases of cancer in Australia each year.
As of June 2016, International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) had identified 198 known and probable cancer causing agents and circumstances; exposure to a number of these agents primarily occurs within the workplace. Some of the most common carcinogens found in Australian workplaces include:
- solar ultraviolet radiation
- diesel engine exhaust
- environmental tobacco (second-hand) smoke
- benzene - benzene is found in crude oil and is a major part of petrol. Used to produce plastics, resins, synthetic fibers, rubber lubricants, dyes, detergents, drugs and pesticides
- silica - blasting, cutting, chipping, drilling and grinding materials that contain silica can result in silica dust that is not safe to breathe in
- wood dust
- artificial ultraviolet radiation
- polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) – organic chemicals released from burning organic substances such as coal, oil and petrol
- chromium VI - occurs during activities such as welding on stainless steel and other alloy steels containing chromium metal.
Putting in place control measures for carcinogenic hazards is the only way to reduce cancer risk at work. Safe work practices should always be outlined and followed in the workplace.
Cancer Council has developed fact sheets around various occupational carcinogens, designed for both employers and employees. They provide information about some workplace cancer risks, how you can control them, legal obligations and where you can go for more information.
Learn more about workplace carcinogens.
Learn more about making compensation claims for work-related cancers here.
Cancer Council eLearning
GP education: occupational carcinogen exposure and cancer
Cancer Council has developed an e-learning module to increase GPs’ awareness of workplace carcinogens and cancers. The module includes sections on occupational carcinogens in Australia, the role of an exposure history, common occupational cancers, and the Australian compensation system. The 60-minute module is accredited with RACGP and ACRRM. Complete the module and register here.