Original Research

Prevalence of exposure to occupational carcinogens among farmers


Ellie Darcey 1 MBiostatistics, Research Assistant *

Renee N Carey2 PhD, Research Fellow

Alison Reid3 PhD, Associate Professor

Tim Driscoll4 PhD, Professor

Deborah C Glass5 PhD, Associate Professor

Geza P Benke6 PhD, Senior Research Fellow

Susan Peters7 PhD, Research Fellow

Lin Fritschi8 PhD, Professor


1, 2, 3, 8 School of Public Health, Curtin University, Bentley, WA 6102, Australia

4 School of Public Health, The University of Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia

5, 6 Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, Monash University, The Alfred Centre, Melbourne, Vic 3004, Australia

7 School of Population and Global Health, University of Western Australia, Nedlands, WA 6009, Australia; and Institute for Risk Assessment Sciences – Environmental Epidemiology, Utrecht University, The Netherlands

ACCEPTED: 18 February 2018

early abstract:

Introduction: Farmers experience a range of carcinogenic exposures, including some pesticides, fuels, engine exhausts, metals, some organic solvents, silica, wood dusts and solar radiation. However many studies investigating the risk of cancer in farmers focus on pesticide exposure alone. The aim of this study was to determine which carcinogens Australian farmers are exposed to, the prevalence and circumstances of those exposures, and the use of protective equipment. 

Methods: The study used data from the Australian Work Exposures Study (AWES) a cross-sectional study conducted in 2012 which investigated the prevalence of carcinogen exposure among Australian workers. This was supplemented with data from AWES-WA, conducted in 2013, which followed the same methodology but in West Australian workers only. A total of 5 498 Australian workers were interviewed about the tasks they carry out in their workplace. The 166 participants who worked in farming (126 men and 40 women, ranging in age from 18-65 years) were the focus of this paper.

Results: On average, farmers were exposed to five different carcinogens. Highest numbers of exposures occurred among men and those working on mixed crop and livestock farms. Solar radiation, diesel engine exhaust and some selected solvents were the most prevalent exposures, each with over 85% of farmers exposed. The main tasks leading to exposure were working outdoors, using and repairing farming equipment and burning waste. Sun protection and closed cabs on machinery were the most frequently used forms of protection.    

Conclusions: Farmers are a high risk group in relation to carcinogen exposure. The variation in tasks that they undertake results in exposure to a wide variety of different carcinogens that require similarly varied control measures.