One third of all cancer deaths in Australia can be prevented. The culture and environment of a workplace can have a significant impact on the health of employees.
Cancer Council Tasmania has some tips to support organisations to provide a healthy workplace environment. By providing a healthy workplace, organisations can improve the wellbeing of staff and help to minimise the risk of developing cancer.
Exposure to solar UVR causes skin and eye damage and is also the main cause of skin cancer in Australia. Solar UVR is carcinogenic to humans. All employers should protect employees by providing a safe working environment that is free from health risks. This includes taking proper steps to reduce the known health risks associated with occupational exposure to solar UVR for employees who work outdoors. Typically, indoor workers experience minimal sun exposure during the working week, which may put them at risk of low levels of vitamin D. Conversely, high recreational sun exposure on sunny weekends and summer holidays can increase the risk of skin cancer.
Employers must ensure their employees can work safely and without risk to their health – this includes exposure to UV radiation. In turn, employees have a responsibility for their own safety and health and must follow UV protection policies and use sun protective measures provided. Skin cancer is a national WH&S priority area.
More information about SunSmart workplaces is available in Cancer Council Australia’s position statement on sun protection in the workplace Cancer Council Australia Sun Protection in the Workplace.
- Protect your workers from ultraviolet radiation by providing long sleeved clothing, sun protective hats, sunglasses and sunscreen.
- Develop a workplace sun protection policy.
- Encourage employees to download the free SunSmart UV Alert app for smartphones: The SunSmart app lets you know when you do and don’t need sun protection, making it easier than ever to be smart about your sun exposure all year. For smartphone users, this free app is a great way to check the UV Alert when you are out and about. The app is available for iPhone, Android and Samsung here.
- Encourage the use of shade at your workplace – use a combination of natural, built and temporary shade for your employees to use on breaks and when outdoors.
For guidelines to minimise workers’ exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun, see the Radiation Protection Standard for Occupational Exposure to Ultraviolet Radiation (2006), published by the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA):
For more information about becoming SunSmart, visit our SunSmart page.
For more information about sun protection in the workplace, visit Cancer Council Australia’s Sun protection in the workplace information page.
Encouraging a smoke-free workplace is one of the most effective steps you can take to reduce the risk of cancer among employees. Tobacco smoke contains more than 4000 chemicals, including over 60 carcinogens (chemicals known to cause cancer).
Nutrition and Physical Activity in the Workplace
Poor nutrition and lack of physical activity increase your risk of developing certain cancers. Encouraging employees to be physically active and to eat healthy food is an important step toward reducing the risk of cancer in your workplace.
- Encourage people to ride or walk to work and to use the stairs.
- Provide bike sheds and showers.
- Include healthy options when catering.
- At social events and functions, make sure water is readily available and alcohol is served in moderation.
- Limit the number of vending machines.
- Walk to a colleague’s desk instead of phoning or emailing.
- Have standing or walking meetings.
- Stand at the back of the room during presentations.
- Use adjustable sit/stand desks to help employees reduce their sitting time.
The Heart Foundation has some great resources to help your workplace develop Workplace Wellness Programs
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. asbestos or diesel engine exhaust)
- forms of radiation (e.g. ultraviolet or ionising radiation)
- entire professions and industries (e.g. working as a painter, or in aluminium production)
patterns of behaviour (e.g. shift working).
Occupational exposures to carcinogens are estimated to cause over 5000 new cases of cancer in Australia each year.
Common workplace carcinogens
As of June 2016, IARC had identified 198 known and probable cancer causing agents and circumstances; exposure to a number of these agents primarily occurs within the workplace. Some of the most common carcinogens found in Australian workplaces include:
- solar ultraviolet radiation
- diesel engine exhaust
- environmental tobacco smoke
- benzene – benzene is found in crude oil and is a major part of petrol. Used to produce plastics, resins, synthetic fibers, rubber lubricants, dyes, detergents, drugs and pesticides
- silica – blasting, cutting, chipping, drilling and grinding materials that contain silica can result in silica dust that is not safe to breathe in
- wood dust
- artificial ultraviolet radiation
- polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) – organic chemicals released from burning organic substances such as coal, oil and petrol
- chromium VI – occurs during activities such as welding on stainless steel and other alloy steels containing chromium metal.
To learn more about some workplace carcinogens or to share your workplace cancer story click here. (Information here supplied courtesy of Cancer Council Australia)