Occupational-related Cancer

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Occupational-related Cancer Safety Talk

Cancer is one of the most devastating illnesses an individual can have. In the United States in 2017, it is estimated that an average of 1,500 people die a day due to cancer. Cancer is caused by carcinogens. Carcinogens are defined as any substance or agent that tends to produce a cancer. These carcinogens are in found in various parts of our lives; however there can be many found in the workplace.

Occupational Cancer Safety TalkCancer Statistics Regarding the Global Workforce
(source: NCIB.gov)

Occupational-related cancer is a problem for many countries around the world. The latest global data released by the International Labour Organization  (ILO) indicates that some 666,000 fatal work-related cancers occur every year, based on information from 2010 and 2011. It is not just the developing countries that fall victim to occupational cancers. Developed countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia, all of the European Union, and a few other countries accounted for approximately 212,000 of the cancer-related deaths. Occupational cancer deaths account for 53% of all work-related deaths in the European Union.

Carcinogens Found in the Workplace

There are 179 agents classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as known or probable human carcinogens. There are another 285 agents classified as possible human carcinogens. Depending on where you work and what job you perform you can be exposed to any number of carcinogens each day. Some common carcinogens found in the workplace include:

  • Asbestos
  • Lead
  • Benzene
  • Silica dust
  • Formaldehyde
  • Cadmium
  • Arsenic
  • Diesel exhaust
  • Ionizing radiation

The list goes on and on. Depending on your working environment will determine what carcinogens could be a concern in your workplace. A study published on PubMed.gov  states that lung cancer accounted for 54–75% of occupational cancer. Many of the common carcinogens listed above lead to respiratory-related cancers thus is the reason why lung cancer is by far the most prevalent occupational cancer.

Best Practices for Preventing Workplace Cancers

The most effective best practice is to eliminate exposure to carcinogens. Elimination is possible through engineering controls, substitution of hazardous agents, or avoiding the carcinogen altogether. Another option is limiting exposure to safe levels and verifying the exposure levels through monitoring. The last line of defense is using the proper PPE for the hazards involved for the work task and environment.


Occupational cancer is a serious concern for workers all around the world. It is critical to understand the hazards relating to carcinogens in your working environment as well as specifically to the tasks you do. Never fear stopping work to ensure yourself and your coworkers are safe from any hazard including carcinogens.

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