Sun Exposure at Work Causes 5 Cases of Melanoma Per Week

Construction and agriculture workers compose a majority of skin cancer deaths.

Getting sun exposure at work may lead to 1 skin cancer death and up to 5 new cases of melanoma per week, according to a new study published by the British Journal of Cancer.

The investigators found that construction workers comprised 44% of skin cancer deaths, and agriculture workers accounted for 23% of deaths. Public administration and defense workers, such as police officers and those in the military, accounted for 10% of deaths, the authors found.

Overall, the investigators estimated that there are 48 deaths, and 241 cases of melanoma each year in Britain that are caused by sun exposure during work.

"We've shown previously that people often don't understand the risks of damage caused by sun in the UK. But this research shows you don't have to work in the Mediterranean or a traditionally sunny country for the sun to damage your skin,” said lead researcher Dr Lesley Rushton. “It's important to get to know what your skin is normally like, and to tell your doctor if you notice any changes to how your skin looks or feels. Skin cancer can appear as a new mole or mark, or it can be a change to something you've had for a while. Now that we have a clearer picture of the extent of the damage caused, employers need to make sure they take sun exposure at work seriously and work out how to reduce it."

The investigators evaluated the risk of developing skin cancer for individuals who work outdoors through gathering information from international studies, and the number of workers exposed to sun through British databases, according to the study.

The researchers used this information to calculate how many workers may develop skin cancer due to working conditions.

"These figures reveal the risk that some people might face from too much sun exposure whilst working,” said Sarah Williams, Cancer Research UK's health information manager. “But we need further research to conclude whether sun exposure at work is directly responsible for these skin cancers.”

While sun exposure is necessary for vitamin D levels, too much exposure increases the risk of developing an aggressive skin cancer, such as melanoma. It is recommended that individuals avoid the sun during its peak hours in the afternoon. Unfortunately, for some workers, this may not be possible.

Individuals who labor in the sun should ensure that protective clothing and sunscreen is worn to prevent developing skin cancer.

This research was conducted as part of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health’s No Time to Lose campaign that is focused on raising the awareness of skin cancer caused by working in the sun. The campaign encourages companies to take more of an active role in preventing their employees from developing cancer.

"We worked with forward-thinking companies, such as the Royal Mail Group, which signed up to our pledge to help prevent occupational cancer,” said Graham Parker, president of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health. “Royal Mail put in place a sun safety strategy which includes providing wide-brimmed hats, long-sleeved tops and trousers as part of its uniform. It encourages its workers to cover up during the higher UV months. Using high-factor sunscreen is helpful but should not be relied on as the only barrier to the harmful rays."