Occupational exposure occurs when a person is exposed to potentially harmful chemical, physical or biological substances at work. People who work with cancer-causing substances (carcinogens) on the job may be exposed to much higher levels of these substances than they would be at home or in their community. Since higher exposure can lead to greater cancer risk, eliminating or reducing exposure is important in the primary prevention of cancer.
Current scientific evidence suggests that being exposed to cancer-causing substances on the job is responsible for a small percentage of cancers. But for those workers, their exposure and risk of cancer is much higher than the average person’s.
The Canadian Cancer Society strongly supports that Canadian workers should not be exposed to carcinogens in the workplace. Where exposure cannot be eliminated, it should be reduced to the lowest possible level. We also believe this will require the following commitments by employers, governments and individuals.
- educate workers about cancer and inform them about their exposure to carcinogens in the workplace
- eliminate or reduce exposure to carcinogens by removing them or by choosing an alternative substance
- establish processes and make changes to the workplace so that workers’ exposure to hazardous substances, including carcinogens, is minimized. The use of personal protective clothing or equipment should be a last resort
Governments must develop evidence-informed legislation and regulations to protect workers.
Individuals have the right (under provincial, territorial and federal health and safety legislation) to refuse work that exposes them to known and highly suspected carcinogens.
What you can do
If you’re concerned about exposure to a potential cancer-causing substance or would like more information about potential hazards in your workplace, contact the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety or the Canadian Cancer Society’s Cancer Information Service at 1-888-939-3333.
Information about specific workplace exposures
Canadian workers can be exposed to numerous substances or situations that have been shown to cause cancer or are suspected of causing cancer. The following pages have information on some specific exposures and how to protect yourself:
Suggested links for more information