Evaluation of prevention strategies for reducing the burden of cancer in the Ontario construction industry

Status: in progress


This study will estimate the number of future cancers being generated by current exposures in the Ontario construction industry, and evaluate a series of prevention strategies in terms of their costs, benefits, feasibility, and impacts on the future burden of occupational cancer (including deaths, illnesses, and economic costs). Exposure to diesel engine exhaust, silica, solar UV radiation, and asbestos in construction will be investigated.


The construction industry has long been considered a high hazard industry. Construction workers are at increased risk of serious or fatal injuries. However, workers in the construction industry also have an increased risk of cancer and other chronic diseases due to a large number of occupational exposures. According to CAREX Canada, the top five carcinogens among Ontario construction workers are solar radiation (121,000 workers exposed), silica (87,000), wood dust (50,000), asbestos (48,000), and diesel engine exhaust (28,000), with smaller numbers exposed to many other metals (e.g. welding fumes) and chemicals (e.g. solvents in paint, fumes from road paving).


This study will estimate the future burden of occupational cancer in the Ontario construction industry, including associated economic costs based on current exposure levels to four major carcinogens: silica, asbestos, diesel engine exhaust and solar UV. In collaboration with stakeholders, the project team will identify priority exposures and feasible prevention strategies for each exposure. Costs for implementation and expected reduction in exposure levels will also be estimated. The final step will be to produce alternate estimates of the future burden of cancer, including associated economic costs, assuming the adoption of each prevention measure in order to evaluate the cost-benefit of the prevention measures.

This project is modelled after a successful European Union project, SHEcan.


This study will estimate the future burden in the construction industry if no reductions in carcinogen exposure occur, as well as under several alternate scenarios where prevention measures are implemented and exposure is reduced. This information can be used immediately to set prevention priorities and will provide a mechanism for comparing the costs and benefits of differing prevention measures.

Progress (updated May 2019):

  • Consultations with stakeholders have taken place to identify feasible exposure control strategies for silica, diesel exhaust, solar UV, and asbestos.
  • Methodology from the Burden of Occupational Cancer in Canada project has been adapted, and the future burden of occupational cancer in the Ontario construction industry has been estimated to 2060 for all 4 priority exposures. Strategies to incorporate the impact of exposure controls into the methodology have been developed, and analyses are in progress.
  • The Institute for Work & Health is leading the economic portion of this study. Economic costs for silica-related prevention strategies have been developed, and results for solar UV are in progress.


Funding for this study has been received from the Ministry of Labour Research Opportunities Program.

Research Team and Collaborators:

Paul Demers
Victoria Arrandale
Emile Tompa (IWH)
Hugh Davies (UBC)
Thomas Tenkate (Ryerson)
Daniel Song
Kate Jardine
Young Jung (IWH)
Amir Mofidi (IWH)
Infrastructure Health and Safety Association
Interior Systems Contractors Association of Ontario
Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario
Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers