Men’s Health Week: Top cancer risks hidden in everyday tradie tasks

Paul Eyers
By Paul Eyers
8 Min Read

One of the biggest downsides of being a tradie is the ongoing impacts the career can have on your long-term health.

Whether you’ve already felt the effects of aching joints, dodgy backs, lost hearing or vision difficulties, most tradies are all too familiar with how being on the tools can take a sledgehammer to your overall well-being. 

But while the signs of those everyday aches are painfully obvious, the construction industry has plenty more hidden health hazards that tradies often overlook. 

One of the most harrowing is cancer.

Caused by dust, chemicals and air pollutants, Aussie tradies are often slogging away in some of the most carcinogenic work environments around.

It is estimated that approximately 6.5 per cent of new cancer cases diagnosed in Australia every year are caused by workplace risk factors. 

And the sad fact is – many of these cancer risks can be virtually eliminated if the proper PPE equipment and health and safety precautions are consistently used. 

However, statistics show an unnecessary amount of men still die early from preventable and treatable causes, such as cancer, every single year.

In light of Men’s Health Week (10-16 June), Built-it has revealed the top carcinogenic health risks tradies face while on the tools. 

Solar radiation

With tradies having up to ten times the UV exposure of indoor workers, skin cancer caused by solar radiation is one of the highest carcinogenic risks construction workers face.

Typically working in outdoor environments, studies show tradies are at greater risk of developing skin cancer than those who work inside. 

sun tradies
Aussie tradies have some of the highest UV radiation exposure rates of any nation’s construction workforce.

In fact, Australia as a whole is now synonymous with the disease, despite its preventability, with 34,000 cases of melanoma diagnosed annually.

And with the nation carrying the highest rates of skin cancer globally, its high-time Aussie tradies pay more attention to reducing their sun exposure. 

This includes wearing clothing that covers the skin if possible and always using sunscreen – even on cloudy and winter days. 

Exhaust fumes 

It is estimated that 1.2 million Australian workers are exposed to diesel engine exhaust every year, making it the second highest carcinogen workers are exposed to after the sun’s UV radiation.

Diesel fuels produce a mixture of airborne chemicals that, when inhaled, can increase the risk of developing health problems such as lung cancer. 

exhaust fumes
High exposure to exhaust fumes is a significant cancer risk.

Last year, 8,691 Aussies passed away from the disease, which has just a 24 per cent chance of survival. 

Construction workers in transport roles or tradies who operate and work close to heavy machinery or construction vehicles are at the highest risk of exposure.

These workers are advised to always follow safety measures to reduce their exposure, such as reducing the time spent near diesel fuel emissions and wearing PPE masks if working in enclosed areas such as mines. 

Silica dust

Silica dust is found in commonly used construction materials such as engineered stone, bricks, tiles and concrete.

When these products are modified via cutting, grinding, drilling, or polishing, the silica is released airborne as fine dust, which is extremely harmful when inhaled.

Inhaling silica dust can lead to the development of silicosis, kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and lung cancer.

silica dust
A construction worker creates a cloud of deadly silica dust by cutting a concrete pipe without proper safety precautions.

Nicknamed “the new asbestosis”, silicosis is caused by breathing the ultra-fine silica dust produced while cutting the stone, with estimates that 100,000 tradies will develop the condition in their lifetime.

After years of campaigning by tradies and the Construction, Forestry, and Maritime Employees Union, the material will now be banned after a SafeWork Australia report found no safe level of dust emitted when the engineered stone is cut. 

As of July, tradies won’t be able to work with engineered stone, protecting them from the harms of silica dust and preventing hundreds of future lung cancer and silicosis cases in the process. 


Asbestos can be found in any home built before 1990, with the deadly construction material used in manufacturing more than 3000 building and decorator products before then.

Although asbestos was banned in Australia in 2003, it can still be found in millions of pre-existing homes and public and commercial buildings.

Breathing in asbestos fibres can increase your risk of lung cancer, mesothelioma, asbestosis, and other diseases. 

Renovation works in older properties runs the risk of asbestos exposure if correct PPE is not worn.

It leads to the death of more than 4000 Aussies per year – more than double the nation’s annual road toll.

As Men’s Health Week draws to a close, another 77 Australians will die as a result of preventable asbestos-related illnesses. 

Tradies, including plumbers, carpenters, and electricians, are likely to encounter asbestos at some stage in their careers, especially if they typically work within residential environments.  

It’s essential to use the correct PPE equipment, including face masks when working in areas where asbestos is present. 


When welding, tradies are often exposed to carcinogens via the fumes produced. 

Exposure to these sometimes invisible gases can lead to lung cancer as well as other breathing-related illnesses. 

Wearing the correct PPE equipment can greatly reduce the risks associated with being exposed to these carcinogenic particles.

Welding has also been associated with other forms of cancer, such as eye melanoma caused by ultraviolet radiation.

Wood dust

Working with wood may seem inconspicuous, but certain wood types are now known to increase workers’ cancer risk significantly. 

Tradies who work with pressed wood products such as plywood, particleboard, and MDF run the risk of formaldehyde exposure, a toxic type of resin used to glue together the wood fibres.

wood dust
Cutting pressed wood products can release cancerous formaldehyde dust into the air.

Modifying these products via cutting or sawing can lead to formaldehyde being released as airborne particles, with tradies working nearby susceptible to breathing in the deadly substance. 

Prolonged exposure and inhalation of wood dust and formaldehyde can cause cancer of the nasal region, as well as leukaemia. 

It is estimated that around 16 per cent of cancers of the nose and nasal sinuses in men could be due to wood dust exposure.

Share This Article
Paul Eyers has worked as a journalist for a range of media publishers including News Corp and Network Ten. He has also worked outside of Australia, including time spent with ABS-CBN in the Philippines. Stepping away from the media, Paul spent five years sharpening his tools in construction - building his skill set and expertise within the trade industry. His diverse experiences and unique journey have equipped him with an insider view of Australia’s construction game to dig deep into the big stories.