Workers Health & Safety Centre

CCO report includes new information on occupational cancers in Ontario

Prevention System Quality Index
A status report on cancer prevention in Ontario includes for the first time all important information on work-related cancers in the province.
Cancer Care Ontario’s 2016 Prevention System Quality Index is its second report monitoring cancer risk for Ontarians. It also reviews the effectiveness and gaps in policies and programs intended to reduce the prevalence of risk factors and exposures. The 2016 report examines a number of risk factors including, for the first time, several major environmental and occupational causes of cancer.

Occupational cancer—leading cause of work-related death in Ontario

Occupational cancers claim more worker lives in Ontario than any other work-related cause. Despite this, many challenges still exist to effectively identify, measure and control exposures.
Understanding there is no safe level of exposure to carcinogens, the strategies most protective of workers’ health involve substitution with a safe alternative or elimination. Given this, the Report authors recommend a hierarchy of controls framework to guide employer and government prevention efforts.
Among the data researchers analyzed was information from businesses reporting under Ontario’s Toxics Reduction Act (TRA). This law requires certain businesses to report the toxic substances they use, create and release and the number of employees working in the facility. Using that information researchers estimated potential worker exposures, something the TRA doesn’t require. Reporting businesses must also develop toxics reduction plans and make those available to the public, however implementation of plans is not mandatory.
Researchers examined data on two TRA-regulated substances formaldehyde and nickel. Key findings include:
  • 64,000 Ontario workers exposed
  • Increased risk of nasopharyngeal cancer and leukemia
  • Commonly used in paper, chemical and wood product manufacturing facilities
  • Ontario’s occupational exposure level (1.5 parts per million) is higher than the exposure limit in six other provinces and the federal jurisdiction.
  • 48,000 Ontario workers exposed
  • Increased risk of lung and nasal cancers
  • Greatest exposures in metal products manufacturing and mining and processing nickel
  • Only 30 of 122 reporting facilities identified actions to reduce use or production of nickel.
The report also identifies opportunities to reduce two other significant occupational carcinogens, asbestos and diesel engine exhaust. These include expanding Ontario Asbestos Workers Registry and created a provincial registry of public buildings containing asbestos and developing occupational exposure limits for diesel engine exhaust.

Regulating toxics reduction

Effective toxics reductions laws can help workplaces transition to safer alternatives. Reducing harmful exposures can help reduce the overall cancer burden benefitting both worker and public health.
Massachusetts’ model Toxics Use Reduction Act sets out similar tracking, reporting and toxics reduction planning for large chemical users, but unlike Ontario, fees paid by reporting companies, support several government agencies including the Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI). Agencies like TURI offer critical support to help workplaces find safer, less polluting alternatives. For example, Massachusetts businesses have reduced their use of formaldehyde by some 8.5 million pounds with some substituting soy- and water-based resins for formaldehyde based ones.
Unique in North America, Toronto’s Environmental Reporting and Disclosure Bylaw empowers Toronto Public Health through its ChemTRAC program to require certain businesses to report the manufacture, use and release of 25 priority chemical substances. Along with support for businesses, the Toronto Cancer Prevention Coalition’s Toronto Toxic Reduction Tool Kit is designed to help residents and workers understand and access this information and encourage them to press for waste and toxics reduction, pollution prevention and greening of local businesses.  
A recent report analyzing the European Union’s Registration, Evaluation, and Authorisation of Chemicals program cited regulation as a critical driver of chemical substitution. Noted benefits included improved worker safety and worker satisfaction, enhanced brand reputation and decreased regulatory and chemicals management costs.
The WHSC offers a number of training programs and resources to help workplaces better understand their legal duties and responsibilities related to workplace hazards including toxic substances. Many of these same programs offer essential insight into the tools and information needed to identify and control or eliminate harmful workplace toxins.
To learn more:
Call:    1-888-869-7950 and ask to speak to a training service representative
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