Occupational exposure is any contact between the human body and a potentially harmful substance that occurs in the workplace. The highest risk occurs when body surfaces, such as the skin, nasal passages and lungs, come in direct contact with the carcinogen. The cancer-causing substance may be absorbed or inhaled. Specific exposures are related to the type of work and the safety precautions taken to reduce exposure.
Potential health risks may also be associated with how certain industries provide services or production. For example, researchers are studying the impact of shift work (working outside the normal workday, often at nighttime) and how it may be associated with cancer risk in workers.
The level of risk depends on the amount and length of exposure, how powerful the carcinogen, the presence of other risk factors and a person’s susceptibility. Some workers may have greater and longer exposures to harmful chemicals in the workplace and their risk of cancer may be a lot higher.