Employees who work outdoors during daytime hours are at higher risk of skin cancer. In the US, according to the CDC, "Melanoma is the third most common skin cancer and about 65%–90% of melanomas are caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light." In 2009, 61,646 people in the United States were diagnosed with melanomas of the skin.
Over the last 25 years rates of Malignant Melanoma in countries such as Britain for example have risen faster than any of the top ten cancers in males & females and outdoor workers have a higher than average risk of developing the disease; particularly construction workers who are six times more likely to develop skin cancer than the general population.
While the sun is a good source of Vitamin D, long term exposure causes skin damage and every episode of sunburn increases the risk of skin cancer. Indeed, 90% of skin cancers occur on parts of the body usually not covered by clothing; the face, hands, forearms and ears.
Understanding solar ultraviolet radiation (UVR) is vital for understanding the sun protection control measures needed. The sun emits 3 types of UV light/radiation: UVA, UVB and UVC. UVC radiation is blocked by the ozone layer whilst UVA and UVB both reach the earth’s surface and penetrate our skin. UVB rays are burning rays and the primary cause of sunburn and contribute to skin cancer. UVA rays are able to penetrate deeper into the base layer of the skin and contribute to skin burning, skin cancer and premature aging.
It is a common misconception that you can ‘feel yourself getting sunburnt’, however, Solar UVR cannot be seen or felt so it can damage the skin without us knowing. Levels of solar UVR vary around the world on any given day. The UV index is a rating system adopted from the World Health Organisation. The forecast is expressed as a ‘Solar UV Index’ and includes the effects of the position of the sun in the sky, forecast cloud cover and ozone amounts in the stratosphere.
The aim of the index is to warn people of increased risk and encourage them to change their behaviour in order to protect themselves against the risks of skin damage and skin cancer.
When the UV index is at level 3 and above, the amount of solar UV radiation is strong enough to damage the skin, which can lead to skin cancer.
So, what can employers do to minimise exposure to the sun for those who work outside?
In consultation with health and safety representatives and employees, employers should identify solar UVR exposure hazards and introduce control measures to reduce exposure such as choosing the right protective equipment, clothing and skin care products, as well as advising employees on UV protection and how to check for early signs of skin damage, changes or abnormalities.
As the summer approaches, it is important to look at the needs of outdoor workers. Organisations should work with companies who are experts in skin care to provide a systemised skin safety solution along with providing advice and educational materials. Sunscreen is of paramount importance for helping to reduce the risks of damage to the skin and those who work outside should be encouraged to use a good quality sunscreen.
What determines a good quality sunscreen?
For outdoor working a minimum SPF of 30 is recommended; Sun Protection Factor (SPF) 30 means that the product will stop 95-97% of UVB rays and allow 30 times longer in the sun before burning than without it. In addition to UVB protection, it is important that the sunscreen contains UVA protection; the UVA protection for a specific sunscreen should ideally be a minimum 4 star UVA rating and should display the UVA logo on the packaging.
Are there any other factors to consider when using a sunscreen?
It is important that the product is applied correctly as most people use sunscreens improperly by not applying enough. Even on a cloudy day, 30-50% of the sun’s rays reach the skin so sunscreen should be liberally applied every 2 hours, or more if perspiring.
When it comes to health in the workplace, prevention is far better than cure!
National skin cancer charity Skcin and collaborative group Skin Cancer UK are dedicated to raising awareness of the dangers of over-exposure to UV in a bid to combat the UK's most common cancer and ultimately save lives.
The principle objective of the charity is to ensure that the dangers of over-exposure to the sun are given a significantly greater profile in the UK with an emphasis on sun safety education and awareness to combat what is a largely preventable disease. The charity also promotes the vital early detection of skin cancers and provides patient support, campaigning for improved treatment and care.
It provides four simple steps to ensure that employers implement suitable sun safety policy and education, potentially reducing their liability. Enter the Sun Safe Workplace Portal here...
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