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


The goal of this study was to estimate the number of future cancers being generated by current exposures in the Ontario construction industry for select exposures, 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 were investigated.

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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 estimated the future burden of occupational cancer in the Ontario construction industry, including the number of attributable cases and associated economic costs based on current exposure levels to four major carcinogens: silica, asbestos, diesel engine exhaust and solar UV. Methods to estimate future burden were adapted from the Burden of Occupational Cancer in Canada study. In collaboration with stakeholders, the project team identified priority exposures and feasible prevention strategies for each exposure. Costs for implementation and expected reduction in exposure levels were also estimated. The future burden of cancer, assuming no interventions were implemented, was estimated to 2060. The final step was 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 was modeled after a successful European Union project, SHEcan.


This study estimated 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.


Funding for this study was received from the Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development’s Research Opportunities Program.


More information on priorities, implications, and next steps is available in our Future Burden of Cancer in Construction, Workshop Report (2019).

Scientific Articles
  • A probabilistic approach for economic evaluation of occupational health and safety interventions: a case study of silica exposure reduction interventions in the construction sector

  • The current burden of cancer attributable to occupational exposures in Canada

Research Team and Collaborators
Paul Demers
Victoria Arrandale
OCRC and University of Toronto
Emile Tompa
Institute for Work and Health
Hugh Davies
Thomas Tenkate
Ryerson University
Daniel Song
Kate Jardine
Young Jung
Institute for Work and Health
Amir Mofidi
Institute for Work and Health
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