What are you exposed to while on the job?

As millions of Canadians head into work each day, the Ontario Cancer Research Centre is working towards finding the link between carcinogens found on job sites and the development of cancer. In their recent study, Burden of Occupational Cancer in Ontario, the organisation identifies the leading workplace-related cancers and which exposures are the culprit.  


Silica is a basic component of soil, sand and granite. When workers chip, cut or grind materials that contain crystalline silica, thousands of micro-sized crystals can be inhaled. These tiny particles become embedded in the lungs and lead to the incurable disease of silicosis, as well as lung cancer. The carcinogenic substance is most commonly encountered in construction, insulation, maintenance, glass production and iron and steel founding jobs. Additionally, those who work in hematite and uranium mining are also at risk.

Of the 142,000 Ontarians exposed to silica, there are a reported 300 cases of occupational lung cancer diagnosed each year.


Anywhere there’s a gas-run vehicle or machine, there’s typically diesel exhaust in the air. Leading occupations that encounter this exposure include bus and truck drivers, dock workers, filling station attendants, mechanics, excavating machine operators and railroad workers, as well as those part of the petroleum refining and distribution industry.

It’s estimated that 301,000 Ontario workers are exposed to diesel exhaust while on the job, and 170 develop lung cancer as a result each year. In addition, 45 cases of bladder cancer are also attributed to this carcinogen annually.


Asbestos is a heat-resistant silicate mineral that can be found woven into fabrics, as well in fire-resistant and insulating materials. While the use of it has decreased drastically over recent years, it was commonly used in the construction industry until the 1970’s. Asbestos can still be found in cement, wallboard, pipes, textured paints and air ducts, especially in older industrial and commercial buildings. Common industries that encounter this carcinogen include aircraft and aerospace, construction, insulation, mining, milling, glass production, sheet-metal, shipyard and asbestos cement.

Mesothelioma, a cancer that develops in the lining tissues of the lungs, abdomen and heart, is the most common ailment tied to asbestos, however, lung, laryngeal and ovarian cancers have also been linked to the carcinogen. Generally, the development of mesothelioma is a slow process and often isn’t diagnosed until more than 30 years after exposure.

According to one study* published in the American Journal of Occupational Medicine, the overall risk for mesothelioma in women exposed to asbestos is 23 per cent. However, this risk increases to an astonishing 90 per cent if the woman has had “take home” exposure to the carcinogen — namely, bringing clothes or other materials home that have been exposed to asbestos while at work.


Sun exposure favours no particular industry and is encountered each day on a tremendous amount of outdoor job sites. In fact, it’s estimated that 450,000 Ontarians endure sun exposure each day while working. Of that, approximately 1,400 Ontario workers are diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancer from on-the-job solar radiation exposure each year.


Whether it’s PPE or SPF, it’s crucial to wear the right protection for your job.

Performing a risk assessment to identify the airborne hazards that exist in your workplace, determining the best form of respiratory protection that will keep you safe and completing fit testing to ensure you’re wearing your respirator correctly are all essential ways to keep yourself protected against occupational cancer.

Need additional guidance? Contact us today to learn more.

* American Journal of Occupational Medicine

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Julie McFater

Director of Marketing

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