Out of Harm’s Way | Risks of Occupational Cancer

Cancer has a number of known and unknown causes. Individuals with known cancer risk factors may have an increased chance of developing the disease.

Workplace exposure to carcinogens is a known risk factor for developing cancer, and it’s been estimated that 3-6% of cancer cases are caused in part by this exposure. Hazardous chemicals in the workplace can increase a worker’s risk of developing cancer if the worker is exposed though inhalation, ingestion, skin absorption, or direct exposure.

Eliminating or decreasing the possibility of worker exposure to carcinogens can help prevent occupational cancer. There are many ways this can be accomplished:


  • Eliminate hazardous materials or substitute substances for the least harmful alternative.
  • Ensure workers are using the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) for the job.
  • Use engineering controls, such as process modification, equipment modification, and isolation.
  • Employ administrative controls, such as good hygiene and housekeeping practices.
  • Ensure workers are aware of potential carcinogen exposures at the workplace, as well as the risks that are involved, and how to minimize those risks.


  • Know which chemicals you work with and the effects of exposure.
  • Wear the proper PPE for the task.
  • Discuss ideas for reducing potential exposure with your employer.
  • Be mindful of inhalation, ingestion, skin absorption, and direct exposure dangers. Don’t breathe in chemicals. Avoid chemical contact. Wash hands and leave the work area before eating, and keep your hands away from your face.
  • Make sure you don’t bring hazardous chemicals home. Always wear clean work clothes and change out of them at work, if possible. Keep your work clothes separated from the rest of your clothes.

It’s important to minimize your risk factors for developing cancer. Evaluate your work environment and eliminate or reduce your workplace exposures to carcinogens. See the NIOSH Carcinogen List for a list of potential occupational carcinogens. You can also minimize cancer risk factors by not smoking, eating healthy foods, keeping a healthy body weight, using sunscreen, and getting regular check-ups from your doctor.

Date Posted: 09-12-2016
Tags: carcinogens in the workplace, occupational cancer, occupational hazards, osha safety topics, osha workplace safety, personal protection equipment,
Categories: OSHA Safety,