Environmental and Occupational Cancer Risk

There are some occupational hazards (where you work) and environmental hazards (where you live) that can increase your risk of certain cancers.

Occupational cancer risks

Exposure to carcinogens (cancer-causing agents) in the workplace is estimated to cause over 5000 new cases of cancer in Australia each year.

Approximately 3.6 million Australians could be exposed to one or more carcinogens at work. Men are generally at greater risk than women.

Occupational hazards include:

  • Combustion products (e.g. diesel engine exhaust, second hand tobacco smoke)
  • Inorganic dusts (e.g. asbestos, silica dust)
  • Organic dusts (e.g. leather dust, wood dust)
  • Metals (e.g. arsenic compounds, nickel compounds)
  • Radiation (e.g. artificial UV radiation and UV radiation from the sun)
  • Other industrial chemicals (e.g. benzene, aromatic amine dye exposure).

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has a full list of known carcinogenic agents, and agents that possibly and probably cause cancer. Approximately 29 of the 108 Group 1 carcinogens (known to cause cancer in humans) may be encountered within workplace settings.

All employers are required to manage known risks and hazards using the Heirarchy of Control. As an employee, ensure you follow required safety practices within your workplace and speak with a manager or supervisor if you feel your health and safety is at risk.

Contact Workplace Health and Safety Queensland and SafeWork Australia to learn more about managing occupational cancer risks.

Environmental cancer risks

Potential environmental hazards that may occur in the home or public places include:

Second-hand smoke

Second-hand smoke is a significant environmental risk. There is no safe level of exposure to second hand smoke

Second-hand smoke is associated with a number of diseases and conditions in non-smokers, including lung disease, respiratory systems, worsening asthma, stroke and heart disease. Second-hand smoke has negative effects for everyone; adults, children and especially for mother and baby during pregnancy.

Reduce your exposure to second hand smoke by:

  • Keeping your house and car smoke free
  • Protecting children and babies from second hand smoke – they are particularly susceptible to the health effects of passive smoking
  • advocating for smoke-free spaces in your local community
  • Supporting smokers you know to quit.

UV radiation

Exposure to UV radiation from the sun is a common environmental cancer risk. In Queensland, UV radiation from the sun is strong all year round, even in winter.

Tips to reduce your UV radiation exposure:

  • Stay SunSmart every day
  • Create shade in your backyard
  • Consider tinting windows on your house and cars
  • Advocate for shade in public places in your local community (e.g. playgrounds, parks, recreational facilities).

Home renovations and DIY

The tools you use and the materials you disturb during home renovations may increase the risk of cancer for you and your family.

Contact Workplace Health and Safety Queensland for advice on identifying possible risks and managing these risks safely before you begin any home renovations or DIY projects.

More information

For more information about other risks call Cancer Council on 13 11 20.

The information available on this page should not be used as a substitute for advice from a properly qualified medical professional who can advise you about your own individual medical needs. It is not intended to constitute medical advice and is provided for general information purposes only. See our disclaimer.