Young and new workers are often at greater risk of injury on the job, but little is known about their increased vulnerabilities to carcinogen exposures at work. Our team conducted a review of the literature and used labour force data with CAREX Canada’s carcinogen exposure data to identify workplaces where young and new workers might be at higher risk of exposures. This includes industries and occupations that employ a large number of young and new workers and encounter a greater number of potential carcinogen exposures.

The key findings of this research are summarized below. More information, including additional results and recommendations, can be found in the research briefs:

 

Young workers

Young workers, or those that are under the age of 25, may be at greater risk of carcinogen exposures due to the unique characteristics of this demographic. For example, they have limited workplace experience, may be less likely to ask questions or voice concerns, and often receive inadequate safety training. These and other challenges faced by young workers contribute to the higher risk of occupational injury among young workers and may also increase the risk of hazardous exposures.

Our results show that young workers in construction, farming, and other outdoor jobs are at higher risk for occupational exposure to carcinogens due to the large number of young workers employed in those industries and the higher number of potential exposures. Other industries that employ a large number of young workers include accommodation and food services and retail trade.

Table 1: Proportion of young workers by industry and CAREX Canada exposure data, 2016

IndustryProportion of industry made up of young workersMost prevalent known or suspected carcinogen exposuresExposures-per-worker metric
Accommodation and food services39%Night shift work
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)
Solar radiation
0.35
Retail Trade28%Night shift work
PAHs
Benzene
0.29
Arts entertainment and recreation28%Solar radiation
Night shift work
Chloroform
0.34
Administrative and support, waste management and remediation services14%Solar radiation
Night shift work
Diesel engine exhaust
0.37
Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting14%Solar radiation
Diesel engine exhaust
Wood dust
1.07


New workers

New workers are those who have been at their current job or workplace for less than six months, including those who have changed job titles, and newcomer groups (new immigrants or refugees to Canada). There are many occupational health and safety challenges faced by new workers that may put them at increased risk of exposures, including inexperience, limited knowledge of workers’ rights, and poor training. The newcomer population accounts for a large number of new workers, which also brings unique challenges.

Our results show that the accommodation and food services sector employs a large proportion of new workers. Many of these jobs include night shift work, as well as exposure to known or suspected carcinogens like PAHs, which can be released in the kitchen while food is being cooked. The construction sector is also of particular concern, since it has a higher number of potential exposures and employs a significant number of new workers.


Table 2: Proportion of new workers by industry
and CAREX Canada exposure data, 2016

IndustryProportion of industry made up of new workersMost prevalent known or suspected carcinogen exposuresExposures-per-worker metric
Accommodation and food services20%Night shift work
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)
Solar radiation
0.35
Business, building, and other support services15%Solar radiation
Night shift work
Diesel engine exhaust
0.39
Retail trade13%Night shift work
PAHs
Benzene
0.29
Information, culture, and recreation13%Night shift work
Solar radiation
Radon
0.27
Construction12%Solar radiation
Silica
Wood dust
1.11

 

Young and new workers may be at an increased risk of exposure to carcinogens and other hazards at work, but the evidence is lacking. Enhancing research capacity, fostering discussion and collaborations among stakeholders, and improving workplace safety training for young and new workers, with particular focus on those that may be at highest risk, may help to us understand and ultimately reduce carcinogen exposures in these worker populations.

 

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