Cancer Prevention in the Workplace
Your job can have a big influence on your health. Learn how employers can help their employees lower their cancer risk.
Making the Workplace Safe
Employers can help reduce workers’ cancer risk by addressing—
- Harmful exposures in the workplace. Asbestos, diesel exhaust, and radon are examples of harmful substances that may be present in workplace settings. These substances can increase a person’s risk for certain types of cancer and should be eliminated or reduced as much as possible. Smoke from other people’s cigarettes (secondhand smoke)increases cancer risk in workers who don’t use tobacco themselves, and tobacco-free workplace policies can help protect workers. Outdoor workers are often exposed to the sun for long periods of time, which increases their risk for skin cancer. Providing shade and protective gear to outdoor employees can help them stay sun-safe on the job.
- Unhealthy behaviors. Certain behaviors can also increase cancer risk; for example, tobacco use (both smoking and chewing), alcohol consumption, poor eating habits, and not getting enough physical activity. Workplace wellness programs can help promote healthful behaviors among workers. Examples include tobacco use cessation programs, seminars on health topics such as healthy eating and stress management, walking programs, and healthy choices in vending machines.
- Chronic conditions. Diabetes and obesity are examples of chronic conditions that increase risk for certain types of cancer, including cancers of the female breast, colon, endometrium, and pancreas. Workplace wellness programs such as weight management programs and preventive screenings can help employees successfully manage or even prevent chronic conditions.
Combining Health Protection and Health Promotion
Traditionally, workplace health promotion programs have focused on health-related behaviors like quitting smoking and staying physically active, while health protection programs have focused on making the workplace safe. Research suggests that combining these approaches works best. Making sure that workers are safe on the job and creating a culture that supports healthy behaviors can improve employee health, safety, and well-being.
Linking with Partners in the Community
Employers can partner with community organizations to offer health-related products and services to employees. For example, employers can partner with local fitness clubs that provide reduced-cost memberships to employees and promote local farmers’ markets that sell fresh fruits and vegetables. These partnerships are especially important for small- and medium-sized employers with limited resources.
Addressing Health Disparities
Differences in industries, workplace settings, and types of work can contribute to cancer health disparities. For example, some jobs can increase cancer risk by exposing workers to hazards like secondhand smoke or too much sunlight, or may require night-shift work.
Workers with a low income may not receive some health benefits that higher-earning workers receive, but also may not qualify for government assistance. Temporary contract workers, seasonal workers, and part-time workers tend to have worse working conditions and receive fewer benefits than workers in more permanent positions. Health protection and promotion efforts targeting these workers may help reduce health disparities.