Carcinogens can be in the air, in something you eat or drink, or be something that touches your skin. Cancer may take many years to develop and there may be no early signs that an exposure will lead to cancer. 

If your workers could be exposed to carcinogens at work, as the PCBU, you must manage the risks.  

Finding out if a chemical is a carcinogen 

The Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) classifies chemicals that are carcinogens. 

If a chemical is a carcinogen, it will have a health hazard pictogram on its label and in its safety data sheet (SDS): 

It will also have a classification, signal word and hazard statement: 

  • Category 1 carcinogen – DANGER – may cause cancer 

  • Category 2 carcinogen – WARNING – suspected of causing cancer. 

You should check a chemical’s label and the SDS as a first step to identify and manage risks posed by carcinogens

Generated carcinogens 

Some carcinogens don’t have a label. They can be a by-product of a work process, such as: 

  • fumes from welding 

  • wood dusts when cutting, sanding or machining timber, and 

  • emissions from burning coal indoors. 

Other carcinogens 

Some carcinogens are naturally occurring and must still be identified and managed. For example, sunlight contains ultraviolet radiation and some soils or rocks contain asbestos. 

Effects of carcinogens 

Coming into contact with carcinogens doesn’t always mean cancer will develop.  

It’s also not always easy to link a cancer diagnosis to carcinogens. Workplace exposure might have stopped a long time before a diagnosis. 

Prohibited and restricted carcinogens 

Some carcinogens have an unacceptable risk to workers and the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) Regulations – Schedule 10 prohibits their use completely or restricts some uses. You must obtain an authorisation from the WHS regulator to use these chemicals at your workplace. 

Carcinogens prohibited under the model WHS Regulations are provided 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, and 

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

In addition to the primary duty of care, a PCBU has specific duties for prohibited or restricted carcinogens. These include: 

  • not using, handling or storing a prohibited or restricted carcinogen without authorisation from your WHS regulator 

  • providing a written statement to a worker who uses, handles or stores a prohibited or restricted carcinogen when that worker finishes working with you, including: 

  • the name of the carcinogen 

  • when the worker may have been exposed 

  • how and where the worker may get records of their possible exposure, and 

  • whether the worker should continue to have their health checked. 

  • keeping records for 30 years of the name, date of birth and address of each worker likely to be exposed to a prohibited or restricted carcinogen, and 

  • providing health monitoring for any worker exposed to a carcinogen listed under Schedule 14 to the model WHS Regulations, or where there is a significant risk to a worker’s health. 

Supplying prohibited carcinogens is illegal unless:  

  • suppliers receive evidence that the carcinogen is for genuine research or analysis, and 

  • the WHS regulator has authorised use. 

Prohibited carcinogens [CAS number] 

  • 2-Acetylaminofluorene [53-96-3] 

  • Aflatoxins 

  • 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]. 

The WHS regulator may grant authorisation  to use these carcinogens for genuine research or analysis only. 

Carcinogens [CAS number] – all uses restricted 

  • Acrylonitrile [107-13-1] 

  • 3,3'-Dichlorobenzidine [91-94-1] and its salts (including 3,3'-Dichlorobenzidine dihydrochloride [612-83-9]) 

  • Diethyl sulfate [64-67-5] 

  • Dimethyl sulfate [77-78-1] 

  • 4,4'-Methylene bis(2-chloroaniline) [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]. 

The WHS regulator may grant an authorisation to use these carcinogens. 

Carcinogens [CAS number] – some uses restricted 

  • Benzene [71-43-2] – restricted for all uses involving benzene as a feedstock containing over 50% benzene by volume 

  • Cyclophosphamide [50-18-0] – restricted to when used to prepare therapies in hospitals and oncological treatment facilities, and in manufacturing 

  • Ethylene dibromide [106-93-4] – restricted to when used as a fumigant. 

The WHS regulator may grant an authorisation to use these carcinogens.