KNOW Workplace Cancer

Occupational exposures to carcinogens are estimated to cause over 5000 new cases of cancer in Australia each year1.

Occupational cancers are those that occur due to exposure to carcinogenic (cancer-causing) agents in the workplace.

As of February 2021, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) had identified 210 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 fibres, rubber lubricants, dyes, detergents, drugs and pesticides
  • lead
  • 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.

How big is the problem of workplace cancers?

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.

More information

  • KNOW Workplace Cancer is a national occupational and environmental cancer project led by a group of experts from around Australia. The project aims to raise awareness of workplace cancers and what employees and employers can do to reduce their risk. For information, please visit the Cancer Council Australia Workplace Cancer webpage.
  • 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. They are available on the Cancer Council Australia Workplace Cancer webpage.
  • Find out more about making compensation claims for work-related cancers.

exhaust fumes from a truck

1. Fritschi, L & Driscoll, T 2006, 'Cancer due to occupation in Australia', Journal of Public Health, vol. 30, pp. 213-219.

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 Tell your workplace story

If you have a personal experience of workplace cancer that you would like to share, we would love to hear from you. This includes if you have been affected as a family member, loved one or carer.

Hearing real life stories may encourage people to get any symptoms checked out with their doctor, participate in the screening they'd been putting off, and highlight the importance of early detection and the need to have control measures in the workplace.

Once you complete the form below, one of our friendly team will be in touch to discuss your story. We will never share your personal details and will always contact you for permission before using any aspect of your story. Your information will always be treated with care and respect, and in accordance with our Privacy Policy.

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