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A carcinogen is a substance or mixture that causes cancer.

Unlike many toxic health effects caused by chemicals, a carcinogenic effect may take many years to develop and there may be no early warning signs. This means a diagnosis of cancer may not be made until long after exposure stops, and it may not be easy to link the disease to workplace exposure.

  • There may be carcinogens in your workplace and you must manage the risks associated with them.

Work health and safety duties

If you carry out activities involving carcinogens as part of your business, you have duties under the model WHS Regulations.

In addition to the primary duties of care, there are specific duties related to prohibited or restricted carcinogens. These include:

  • Must not use, handle or store a prohibited or restricted carcinogen without authorisation from the relevant WHS regulator.
  • Must provide a written statement to a worker who uses, handles or stores a prohibited or restricted carcinogen at the end of the worker’s engagement. The statement must include:
    • the name of the carcinogen
    • the time the worker may have been exposed
    • how and where the worker may get records of possible exposure
    • whether the worker should undertake regular health assessments and the relevant tests to undertake.
  • Must keep records of the name, date of birth and address of each worker likely to be exposed to a prohibited or restricted carcinogen. These records must be kept for 30 years after the authorisation to use the carcinogen ends.
  • Provide health monitoring for any worker exposed to a carcinogen listed under Schedule 14 to the model WHS Regulations, or where a significant risk to a worker’s health is identified.

Prohibited and restricted carcinogens

Some carcinogens have been identified as presenting an unacceptable risk to workers and are prohibited or have restricted uses under Schedule 10 to the model WHS Regulations.

Prohibited carcinogens

Prohibited carcinogens can only be used where the WHS regulator has authorised their use for genuine research or analysis. They can’t be used for any other purpose.

It is illegal to supply prohibited carcinogens to any business unless evidence can be provided that it is being used for genuine research or analysis and that authorisation has been granted by the WHS regulator.

Carcinogens prohibited under the model WHS Regulations are provided in the table below. These carcinogens are prohibited when present in a concentration of:

  • for a solid or liquid—0·1% or more, determined as a weight/weight concentration
  • for a gas—0·1% or more, determined as a volume/volume concentration.

Prohibited carcinogen [CAS number]

2-Acetylaminofluorene [53-96-3]


4-Aminodiphenyl [92-67-1]

Benzidine [92-87-5] and its salts (including benzidine dihydrochloride [531-85-1])

bis(Chloromethyl) ether [542-88-1]

Chloromethyl methyl ether [107-30-2] (technical grade which contains bis(chloromethyl) ether)

4-Dimethylaminoazobenzene [60-11-7] (Dimethyl Yellow)

2-Naphthylamine [91-59-8] and its salts

4-Nitrodiphenyl [92-93-3]

Restricted carcinogens

Certain carcinogens have restricted uses under the model WHS Regulations. These carcinogens can only be used for a restricted use at a workplace where authorisation has been granted by the WHS regulator.

It is illegal to supply restricted carcinogens for a restricted use to any business unless evidence is provided that the WHS regulator has authorised that use.

Carcinogens restricted under the model WHS Regulations are provided in the table below. These carcinogens are restricted when present in a concentration of:

  • for a solid or liquid—0·1% or more, determined as a weight/weight concentration
  • for a gas—0·1% or more, determined as a volume/volume concentration.

Restricted carcinogen [CAS Number]

Restricted uses (requires authorisation)

Acrylonitrile [107-13-1]


Benzene [71-43-2]

All uses involving benzene as a feedstock containing more than 50% of benzene by volume

Genuine research or analysis


When used in preparation for therapeutic use in hospitals and oncological treatment facilities, and in manufacturing operations

Genuine research or analysis

3,3'-Dichlorobenzidine [91-94-1] and its salts (including 3,3'-Dichlorobenzidine dihydrochloride


Diethyl sulfate [64-67-5]


Dimethyl sulfate


Ethylene dibromide

When used as a fumigant, for genuine research or analysis

[101-14-4] MOCA


3-Propiolactone [57-57-8] (Beta-propiolactone)


o-Toluidine [95-53-4] and o-Toluidine hydrochloride [636-21-5]


Vinyl chloride monomer [75-01-4]


Identifying hazards

The first step in eliminating and minimising risks associated with carcinogens is to identify which chemicals used, handled, stored or disposed of at the workplace are carcinogenic.

To do this you can look at a chemical’s labels and SDS.

A chemical that has been classified as a carcinogen under the GHS must display the health hazard pictogram, and the hazard statements associated with the carcinogen classification.

The GHS classification elements that you will see on the labels and SDS of carcinogens are shown below:



Signal word

Hazard statements

Category 1 Carcinogen

Pictogram carcinogen


May cause cancer

Category 2 Carcinogen


Suspected of causing cancer

Generated carcinogens

Carcinogens that occur as a by-product of a work process must also be considered when identifying hazards in the workplace. Examples include:

  • Diesel exhaust produced during the operation of diesel powered vehicles and plant, for example a diesel powered forklift left idling indoors when loading or unloading.
  • Wood dusts produced when timber is cut, sanded or machined.
  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons found in fossil fuel products or formed from incomplete combustion of organic matter, such as coal tar used in asphalt.

Generated carcinogens won’t have labels and there may not be any reference to them on SDS. However, there is often information available on the risks of a generated carcinogen, for example in the Guide for Managing the Risks of Exposure to Diesel Exhaust in the Workplace.

Assessing the risk

When it comes to assessing the level of risk it’s important to consider the route of exposure for the chemical. Some carcinogens do not have a safe level of exposure. Some chemicals may only be carcinogenic if they are absorbed through the skin, whereas others may only be carcinogenic if they are inhaled. Others may be carcinogenic via all routes of exposure.

Knowing the route and level of exposure that causes cancer are key to working out which controls will be most effective for eliminating or minimising the risks.

It is also important to be aware that chemical carcinogens may present other risks such as flammability or corrosivity. These properties should also be taken into account when deciding how to eliminate or minimise risks.

Controlling the risk

Due to the significant risk to health associated with exposure to carcinogens, we recommend you do a detailed risk assessment.

The most effective control is eliminating the hazard and this may include considering whether using a carcinogen is necessary to carry out the task. If you can’t eliminate it, the risk should be minimised by working through the other alternatives in the hierarchy.

Carcinogen controlling the risk

For the majority of carcinogens there is no safe level of exposure. That is, the level of exposure will not reliably predict the risk of developing cancer. This combined with the latency in developing and diagnosing cancer makes it crucial to take a precautionary approach that eliminates or minimises any exposure to carcinogens.

It is critical you train workers in the correct use of any controls selected.

More information on managing risks associated with hazardous chemicals in the workplace, including carcinogens, is provided in the model Code of Practice: Managing Risks of Hazardous Chemicals in the Workplace.

Further advice

SWA is not a regulator and cannot advise you about carcinogen compliance. If you need help, please contact your state or territory work health and safety authority.

Some jurisdictions have additional restrictions for hazardous chemicals used in mines. The relevant Mine Safety regulator can provide more information.



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