Workplace Cancers

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

● a wide range of different industrial chemicals, dusts, metals and combustion products (e.g. diesel engine exhaust)
● forms of radiation (e.g. ultraviolet radiation)
● entire professions and industries (e.g. working as a painter)
● patterns of behaviour (e.g. shift working).

Occupational groups where exposure was greatest included farmers, construction workers, drivers, miners and transport workers. Occupational exposures to carcinogens are estimated to cause over 5000 new cases of cancer in Australia each year. The most common cancer in both men and women is mesothelioma.

It is estimated that around 600,000 Australian workers each year are exposed to silica dust at work, including miners, construction workers, farmers, engineers, bricklayers and road construction workers, as well as those working in demolition.

Silica dust (crystalline silica) is found in some stone, rock, sand, gravel and clay. The most common form is quartz. Silica dust can also be found in the following products:

  • ● bricks
  • ● tiles
  • ● concrete
  • ● some plastic material.

When these materials are worked on, silica is released as a fine dust known as respirable crystalline silica or silica dust. Silica dust is harmful when inhaled into your lungs. As it is 100 times smaller than a grain of sand, you can be breathing it in without knowing. This exposure can result in silicosis, which is irreversible.


Having effective control measures in place is the only real way to reduce the risk of occupational related cancers and exposure to cancer causing substances.

Contact Workforce Guardian and speak to the advisory team to discuss the requirements for controlling such issues in your workplace.

Author: Charles Watson, Senior HR Advisor, Workforce Guardian.