News Brief

10,000 Cancers in Canada: Building Hazards a Major Job Risk

Many carcinogens associated with buildings and construction are to blame for a variety of cancer cases.

hierarchy of hazard controls

Personal protective equipment may be the first thing that comes to mind for risk prevention, but in reality it’s a last resort.

Image: Occupational Cancer Research Centre
Thanks to 13 major occupational carcinogens, 10,000 Canadians per year suffer from cancer, a recent report from the Occupational Cancer Research Centre claims. Many of these hazards are associated with buildings and the construction industry. The 13 (with the estimated number of cancer sufferers) are:

  • solar ultraviolet radiation (4,600)
  • asbestos (2,390)
  • diesel engine exhaust (760)
  • crystalline silica (570)
  • night-shift work (470–1,200)
  • welding fumes (310)
  • polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH, 260)
  • radon (190)
  • secondhand smoke (185)
  • nickel compounds (170)
  • arsenic (60)
  • chromium VI (50)
  • benzene (25)

The authors identify construction workers as one of the major affected groups when it comes to solar radiation, asbestos, diesel exhaust, crystalline silica, welding fumes, chromium VI, PAHs, and arsenic (from treated wood).

The report includes a number of recommendations—both general ones and recommendations by hazard—warning that some types of hazard controls are more effective than others. For example, elimination of the hazard is most effective, while personal protective equipment (PPE) is least effective (in between is “engineering,” which would include protective measures like providing shade). “The use of PPE as a control measure shifts the burden of protection onto workers; presents challenges around availability, selection, fit, maintenance and comfort; and relies on workers’ compliance. They should only be used as a last resort or as a temporary approach to reducing hazardous workplace exposures.”

An example of a better option? When pouring concrete, create a smooth surface to reduce the need for later grinding, which can lead to silica exposure.

More on occupational hazards

OSHA Puts the Squeeze on Asthma-Causing Polyurethanes

Proposed Silica Dust Rule to Limit Exposure on the Job

For more information:

Occupational Cancer Research Centre

Published December 2, 2019

Melton, P. (2019, November 18). 10,000 Cancers in Canada: Building Hazards a Major Job Risk. Retrieved from

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