How high is the risk of working outdoors?
A study published by the European Academy of Dermatology and Venerology showed that around 14.5 million workers in Europe spend at least 75% of their working time outside. After five years of working outdoors, the workers had doubled their risk of developing non-melanoma skin cancer. This research was echoed by the Irish Cancer Society who reported that almost 1 in 4 (23%) of skin cancer deaths in Ireland are from the construction, outdoor and farming industry. Further, UK research published in the British Journal of Cancer estimated that there were 48 deaths and 241 cases of melanoma skin cancer each year caused by ultraviolet (UV) radiation exposure from the sun while at work. The study stated that construction workers accounted for the largest proportion of these cases (44 percent of deaths), followed by agriculture workers (23 percent of deaths).
Why is sun protection for builders and farmers important?
While working outdoors under the sun, builders and farmers are often not taking any precautions to protect their skin. Risk assessments and proper skin and sun safety codes are not always in place or enforced by employers in many countries around the world. Ireland has recently called on the Construction Industry Federation to change this, proposing a motion calling for employers to implement the Irish Cancer Society’s SunSmart – Be smart in the sun code. In a story published in the Irish Mirror, John Regan, a district organizer in Ireland, said: “The risk assessments that are required under health and safety law are not being carried out, and that’s what we need employers to focus on; risk assessments.” He also pointed out that outdoor workers are “obliged legally to carry out risk assessments for all safety hazards in the workplace, and this is a hazard.” Getting workers and employers to consider the hazards of working in the sun is one of the most significant challenges moving forward, and as skin cancer incidence increases around the world, more and more governments and employers will be forced to take note.
What can outdoor workers do to stay safe?
It’s vital for farmers, construction workers, and other outdoor workers to take proper precautions before a long day of work outside.
Essential sun protection for builders and farmers and other outdoor workers means:
- Protective clothing (i.e., a hat, wide-brimmed preferably, long sleeve shirts and pants and sunglasses). There is now sun protective clothing available as well which is specifically designed to block UV rays and comes with a UPF rating (which functions like SPF).
- Broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen of at least SPF 30. Applying sunscreen regularly (at least every two hours, and more when sweating or getting wet) is vital for blocking the sun’s UV rays and preventing burning or skin damage.
- Knowing the warning signs of skin cancer and looking out for any changes occurring on the skin. Early detection is key to preventing skin cancer from progressing and becoming life-threatening.
Even if the sun is hiding behind the clouds, you should not underestimate the importance of skin protection. The sun’s radiation can shine through the clouds and cause just as much damage as a sunny day. If you know someone who spends the majority of their time working outdoors, make sure they understand the risks and are following the proper measures to keep their skin, and their life, safe.