Most skin cancer is caused by sun exposure. The exposure may be long term or short term - where there are periods of intense sun exposure, causing burns. UV light in sunlight damages the DNA in the skin cells, and over time, this damage can lead to skin cancer. If your workers work outside in hot weather, then you should put measures in place to reduce their sun exposure. One in four skin cancer deaths result from those who work in construction or farming, and are continually exposed to harmful sun rays. Find out more about skin cancer and outdoor work: the silent workplace battle.
Once the skin is damaged, the damage is permanent and irreversible. The only way to protect your workers from harm is to limit exposure, provide sun cream (or train workers on the benefits and use), provide protective clothing, allow frequent breaks in the shade, and put in place other measures to reduce risks.
There is no doubt that skin cancer and the sun are inextricably linked, but both employees and employers need to be informed about how to reduce risks. Those who work outside such as construction workers, agricultural workers, and other outdoor, exposed worker needs to be appropriately trained on how to protect their skin from harm. Make sure your workers are not becoming a statistic - since nearly half of those who get skin cancer die from this horrific - and usually preventable - form of cancer.
We will explore what skin cancer is, what the symptoms are, who’s at the most risk, and how you can protect your workers from harm.
Who is at risk for skin cancer?
Anyone with prolonged sun exposure is at risk - soldiers, farmers, landscapers, gardeners, postmen, safety stewards, tree surgeons, hospitality workers who work outdoors, construction workers, and any other outdoor workers. A suntan is your body’s natural defense against the sun, and it helps protect from burns, but if you cross the fine line between tan and burn, your skin reacts like an allergic reaction to the sun, causing a burn, and sometimes causing unseen (silent) damage to your DNA and skin cells, which can later lead to cancer.
Those who are older have a higher likelihood of developing skin cancer, but it can occur in young people too. Often workers are cavalier about sun protection and also assume that the UK's cloud cover protects them from harm, but that is not the case at all; you still need sun cream on a cloudy day.
THE FOLLOWING CONDITIONS INCREASE YOUR RISK OF SKIN CANCER (OR YOUR WORKER’S RISKS):
- Weakened immune systems
- Gender (men are 2 times more likely to develop skin cancer)
- Skin tone (those with lighter skin tones, those with blonde or red hair, blue or green eyes, skin that burns easily, or freckles are more likely)
- Having a large number of moles
- Family history
- Inherited conditions
- Chemical exposure (arsenic, industrial tar, coal, paraffin, some oils)
- Outdoor workers (or outdoor leisure/activity seekers)
- Tanning bed users
What is skin cancer?
Skin cancer is uncontrolled growth (replication) of abnormal skin cells. Skin cancer is caused by ultraviolet radiation exposure from sunlight or tanning beds. When this exposure triggers mutations or genetic defects, and the DNA is irreversibly damaged, the skin cells multiply rapidly, forming malignant tumors.
What are the symptoms of skin cancer?
Any changes to moles, freckles, or your skin could be signs of skin cancer. Make sure you check your skin regularly for any changes. If you see a new sore or growth that isn’t healing; a spot, mole, or sore that hurts and itches; or a mole or growth that bleeds, crusts over, or scabs, then consult your doctors because these are also signs of skin cancer.
Here are some photographic examples of melanoma skin cancer. Not all skin cancers will look like these examples, however.
How can I protect my workers?
2% of all skin cancer cases are from outdoor workers, and of that 2%, 44% of those workers work in the construction industry with another 22% of deaths in farmers. It’s vital that workers are kept safe and understand the risks.
You can protect your workers with the following measures:
- Wear sun protective clothing, long sleeves, closely-woven knits, long trousers
- Avoid light, see-through clothing
- Shorts to the knee offer more protection than shorter shorts
- Collars to protect the back of the neck
- Hats with a 3 inch wide brim to keep the sun off the face, neck, and ears - protect bald spots
- Hardhats can have a flap or extra brim fitted
- Wear sunglasses or safety glasses that filter UV rays
- Sunscreen that has at least SPF 15 and is water-resistant
- Apply sunscreen every two hours or more often if sweating
- UV rays bounce off water, sand, concrete, light surfaces, and snow - take extra care when working near these areas
- Allow workers to rest in the shade or erect a temporary shelter
- Reorganize tasks to be done early morning before 10 am or after 4 pm when possible to avoid the greatest sun intensity
Are you PPE compliant for your outdoor workers?
Download our FREE PPE compliance checklist to see if your workers are protected. Find out how to clean, store, maintain, and buy the right PPE for your workplace hazards.