Cutting Down Cancer Risk in the Workplace

Man at work in his desk
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) dubs cancer as the “leading cause of death in developed countries and the second leading cause of death in developing countries.” Roughly 12.7 million people are diagnosed with the disease annually, with the number expected to increase in the coming year.

Many things come into play when talking about the causes of cancer. According to the CDC, some of these factors are: age, sex, and race; family history of the cancer; diet and personal habits, such as smoking and alcohol consumption; certain medical conditions; exposure to cancer-causing agents in the environment; and exposure to cancer-causing agents in the workplace, among others.

The CDC article continues to expound that an estimated three to six percent of cancer incidents in the world are caused by exposures to carcinogens (or cancer-causing agents) in the workplace. This meant that in 2012, there were roughly 45,872 to 91,745 new cancer cases that were caused by workplace exposure.

Thankfully, exposure to carcinogens in the workplace can be prevented. This can be done by banning carcinogens in the workplace and reducing the exposure to them.

Jobs that can increase Cancer Risk

There are several kinds of jobs that can increase a person’s cancer risks. According to Cancer Research UK, these jobs are in the following industries: agriculture, forestry, and fishing; construction and painting; manufacturing and mining; and service industries.

These jobs put people at risk because of too much exposure to carcinogens, such as asbestos, silica, coal products, wood dust, paint and solvents, fossil fuels, second-hand smoke, and even too much sun exposure.

These carcinogen-rich materials usually come with hazard warnings. If they are being used in the workplace, then their use should be heavily regulated to keep the exposure within safety limits. Unfortunately, while this safeguard is in place today, they weren’t in place decades ago. Since it can take a while for cancer to develop in the body, prolonged exposure to these carcinogens in the past could still increase a person’s risk for contracting cancer.

Carcinogens and what you can do about them

The United States Department of Labor – Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released a list of known carcinogens in the workplace. These carcinogens are:

  • asbestos
  • 4-Nitrobiphenyl
  • alpha-Naphthylamine
  • Methyl chloromethyl ether
  • 3,3′-Dichlorobenzidine (and its salts)
  • bis-Chloromethyl ether
  • beta-Naphthylamine
  • Benzidine
  • 4-Aminodiphenyl
  • Ethyleneimine
  • beta-Propiolactone
  • 2-Acetylaminofluorene
  • 4-Dimethylaminoazobenzene
  • N-Nitrosodimethylamine
  • Vinyl chloride
  • Inorganic arsenic
  • Cadmium
  • Benzene
  • Coke oven emissions
  • 1,2-dibromo-3-chloropropane
  • Acrylonitrile
  • Ethylene oxide
  • Formaldehyde
  • Methylenedianiline
  • 1,3-Butadiene
  • Methylene Chloride

Each of these carcinogens has safety guidelines and requirements that should be followed before they are utilized in the work environment. Despite this list however, OSHA still identified lack of respiratory protection among the 10 most cited safety and health violation in 2016. The organization says, “But we can see from our list of violations that not nearly enough employers are provided this needed protection and training.”

If you are working in an environment which requires you to deal with these carcinogens, talk to your supervisor about their respiratory protection responsibilities, pointing out that you fear getting sick because of the carcinogens. If they do not give you ample training and protection, contact the authorities.

Cutting Down Cancer Risk in the Workplace

Other Workplace Tips

Now that you know the safeguards against carcinogens that you may inhale at the workplace, here are other tips to protect yourself against cancer when you work.

  • Protect yourself from the shade – Those who work outdoors know how grueling the sun can be. To avoid too much exposure, spend time in the shade particularly during the periods when the sun is at its hottest – between 11 AM and 3 PM. Regularly use sunscreen as well that is at least SPF15, and reapply it generously as needed. If you don’t want to feel sticky during the day because of the sunscreen, then get one that has low oil content. Finally, use protective clothing such as a hat, sunglasses, or a long sleeved shirt.
  • Stop smoking – The American Lung Association attributes a number of diseases that are caused by or are triggered by smoking. These diseases range from at least 10 types of cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease, stroke, asthma, to diabetes, among others. It can even cause infertility issues in women, as well as other reproductive issues.If you are trying to quit smoking, try to quit as soon as you are able. Don’t give up on the onset as it may take several tries before you can quit the habit for good. To ensure that you are not passing on secondhand smoke to those around you, then make it a habit not to smoke in your house or in the car. Also, avoid going for cigarette breaks with your friends if that would help you avoid the temptation to light up.
  • Eat healthy – A healthy, balanced diet is always the way to go if you want to cut down on the risk of not only cancer, but other diseases as well. Eating healthy gives you more energy to accomplish all your tasks. If you’re bringing your own lunch to work, then make sure that you bring at fruits and vegetables at least once a day. Choose healthy meat, such as chicken or fish, instead of red meat. Next, try to cook your meals with olive or canola oil.In light of this, try to suppress the urge to indulge in sugary snacks, such as cookies, cupcakes, and soda. Try to eat brown rice and whole-wheat bread, over their regular counterparts.By bringing your own food to work, you would then be able to ensure that you would be able to eat healthy for the rest of the day. This also helps you save money, as you no longer have to spend anything in your workplace!
  • Drink alcohol in moderation
    Drinking alcohol in moderation can be good for you, but if you are drinking too much then you are putting yourself at risk of diseases. If you are drinking more than moderately (which is less than a drink a day for women and less than two drinks a day for men), then you should consider cutting back.If you’re in a situation where alcohol is rampant, then try to drink a glass of water after every alcoholic beverage.

As in most cases, healthy living is still the best way to avoid various diseases. Once you’re sure that your workplace has your best interests at heart, even if there are carcinogens, then practice eating healthy and curbing your vices. Not only will you be cutting back on your cancer risk, you would also feel better and stronger in the long run.