About the Study
This study was an extension of the methodology used in the Current Burden of Occupational Cancer Study. We estimated the future burden of cancer in the Ontario construction industry, from 2030 to 2060, due to four exposures: silica, solar UV radiation, diesel engine exhaust, and asbestos. We also investigated the potential impact of a series of control strategies to reduce exposure and decrease the future burden of cancer in construction. The Institute for Work & Health led the economic analysis of the costs and savings associated with these interventions.
The construction industry is a high hazard industry. Construction workers are at increased risk of injury as well as cancer and other chronic diseases. Results from this study will help us to better understand the impact to workers if no reductions in carcinogen exposure occur, as well as the benefits of implementing specific prevention measures. This information can be used to set prevention priorities and will provide a mechanism for comparing costs and benefits of differing prevention measures. The methodology can also be extended to other industries or other jurisdictions within Canada.
Without intervention, exposure to silica dust in the Ontario construction industry will cause an estimated 3350 lung cancer cases between 2030 and 2060. Over the same time period, implementation of wet cutting methods could prevent 200 cases, while proper use of half-face mask respirators could prevent 180 cases. Fully eliminating exposure to silica by 2030 would prevent 860 cases over the 30-year period (the remaining cases are due to exposure prior to 2030). Based on the economic costs of implementation and the costs saved through averted lung cancer cases, implementation of exposure controls would take between 22 to > 40 years to break even, depending on compliance and effectiveness.
Solar UV Radiation
Without intervention, exposure to solar UV radiation in the Ontario construction industry will cause an estimated 27,650 non-melanoma skin cancer cases from 2030-2060. Over the same time period, implementation of portable shade structures could prevent approximately 1960 cases, while PPE (hats with brims and long-sleeved shirts) could prevent 2500 cases. Fully eliminating exposure to solar UV radiation by 2030 would prevent 6030 cases between 2030 and 2060. Based on the economic evaluation of the implementation costs and savings from averted cases, implementation of exposure controls for solar UV radiation would take between 21 and 34 years to break even depending on effectiveness and compliance.
Without intervention, exposure to asbestos in the Ontario construction industry will cause an estimated 6020 lung cancer cases between 2030 and 2060. Over the same time period, implementation of an asbestos ban could prevent approximately 60 cancers, while a building registry could prevent an estimated 440 cancers. Fully eliminating all exposure to asbestos as of 2030 could prevent about 1400 cancers. The small impact of the ban reflects the fact that construction workers are more likely to be exposed to asbestos in existing materials and buildings, rather than new uses.
While it was not feasible to estimate the costs of the asbestos ban or a building registry as part of this study, the Government of Canada has estimated the costs of the national asbestos ban to be approximately $4 million in government administrative costs, with a further $8 million in substitution costs for cement pipe (over the period 2019-2035) for the construction sector Canada-wide.
Diesel Engine Exhaust
Without intervention, we estimated that exposure to diesel engine exhaust in the Ontario construction industry will cause approximately 400 lung cancers between 2030 and 2060. However, we believe this is an underestimate caused by limitations of the exposure data currently available. Due to the small number of estimated cases, we did not estimate the impact of any interventions.
This project was funded by the Ontario Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development. It was a collaboration between researchers at the OCRC, Institute for Work & Health (who led the economic analyses), University of British Columbia, and Ryerson University, and was completed with support from the Infrastructure Health and Safety Association, the Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario, the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers, and the Interior Systems Contractors Association of Ontario. For more information on the study, visit our project page.