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Carcinogens are agents that can cause cancer. In industry, there are many potential exposures to carcinogens. Generally, workplace exposures are considered to be at higher levels than for public exposures. Material safety data sheets (MSDSs) should always contain an indication of carcinogenic potential.

OSHA Standards

Carcinogens are addressed in specific standards for general industry, shipyard employment, the construction industry, and the identification, classification, and regulation of carcinogens. This section highlights OSHA standards, directives (instructions for compliance officers), and standard interpretations (official letters of interpretation of the standards) related to carcinogens. Twenty-five states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have OSHA-approved State Plans and have adopted their own standards and enforcement policies. For the most part, these States adopt standards that are identical to Federal OSHA. However, some States have adopted different standards applicable to this topic or may have different enforcement policies.

General Industry (29 CFR 1910)

The following standards apply to substances that are classified as carcinogens or potential carcinogens by the National Toxicity Program (NTP).

Shipyard Employment (29 CFR 1915)

Construction Industry (29 CFR 1926)

Identification, Classification, and Regulation of Carcinogens (29 CFR 1990)

  • 1990.101, Scope

  • 1990.103, Definitions

  • 1990.106, Amendments to this policy

  • 1990.111, General statement of regulatory policy

  • 1990.112, Classification of potential carcinogens

  • 1990.143, General provisions for the use of human and animal data


  • Inspection Procedures for the Hazard Communication Standard. CPL 02-02-038 [CPL 2-2.38D], (1998, March 20). Establishes policies and provides clarifications to ensure uniform enforcement of the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS).

  • Sample Material Safety Data Sheet. CPL 02-02-039 [CPL 2-2.39], (1986, March 27). Establishes procedures for national distribution of a nonmandatory material safety data sheet (MSDS) form that is consistent with the requirements for MSDSs in the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS).

  • Search all available directives.

Standard Interpretations

Hazard Recognition

Many workers are unaware of the potential hazards in their work environment, which makes them more vulnerable to injury. The following references aid in recognizing these hazards and the health effects associated with carcinogens in the workplace.

Exposure Evaluation

The following references aid in evaluating occupational exposures and the health effects of carcinogens.

  • Chemical Sampling Information. OSHA. Presents, in concise form, data on a large number of chemical substances that may be encountered in industrial hygiene investigations. Basic reference for industrial hygienists engaged in OSHA field activity.

  • OSHA Technical Manual (OTM). OSHA Directive TED 01-00-015 [TED 1-0.15A], (1999, January 20).
  • Minimal Risk Levels (MRLs). Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). Contains data for more than 270 substances.

  • Proposed Guidelines for Carcinogen Risk Assessment. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Describes the framework to be followed in developing an analysis of carcinogen risk and evaluating the nature and magnitude of the cancer hazard from suspect carcinogens.

  • Health Based Exposure Guidelines Committee. Chemical Exposure Guidelines. 9th ed. San Jose, CA: Santa Clara Center for Occupational Safety and Health, (1995).

Possible Solutions

The following references provide possible solutions for carcinogen hazards in the workplace.

  • NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Publication No. 2005-149, (2007, September). Lists the physical description, synonyms and trade names, personal protection, first-aid, and exposure limits for many chemicals.

  • Occupational Health Guidelines for Chemical Hazards. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Publication No. 81-123, (1981, January). Contains information on identification, physical and chemical properties, health hazards, exposure limits, exposure sources and control methods, monitoring, personal hygiene, storage, spills and leaks, and personal protective equipment.

  • NIOSH Evaluation of its Cancer and REL Policies. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Workplace Safety and Health Topic.
    • Respirator Use Policy for Protection Against Carcinogens. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), (1995, September). Introduces NIOSH's policy for developing recommended exposure limits (RELs) for substances, including carcinogens.
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). OSHA Safety and Health Topics Page.

  • Process Safety Management. OSHA Safety and Health Topics Page.

  • Ventilation. OSHA Safety and Health Topics Page.

Additional Information


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