Sun Protection for Outdoor Workers

Introduction

This short guide is both for employers of outdoor workers and the employees themselves on sun protection. These include construction workers, farmers, agricultural and horticultural workers, fishermen, gardeners, postal workers, council workers, refuse collectors and couriers. The guide provides useful information on the topic of skin cancers which are much more common in outdoor workers than those who work indoors. It also outlines measures that employers should have in place to protect their employees. 

Skin Cancer

Cancer is a disease of the body cells. The cells do not behave as normal and keep on growing to form a primary tumour. If a cancer is malignant, the cells can break away from the body part where they form and be carried by the bloodstream or lymph vessels elsewhere and form a secondary tumour.

Skin cancer is caused by abnormal growth of the cells nearest the skin, squamous, basal and melanocytes (see Fig.1). Squamous and basal cells form non melanoma skin cancer while melanocytes cells which give the skin its pigment or colour form melanoma skin cancer. Basal cell cancers (BCC) are more strongly related to acute sun burn events in childhood and intermittent adult exposure while squamous cell cancer (SCC) is mostly a result of chronic long term occupational sun exposure.

Fig. 1

human_skin

Cases of Skin Cancer

Unfortunately the annual rates of both melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers are increasing steadily in Ireland. We are approaching nearly 1000 cases of melanoma and almost 10,000 cases of non-melanoma annually.

In 2012, there were 860 people diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer, 470 women and 390 men. Annually about 140 people die from this cancer, with more females 84 than males 56.

Non melanoma skin cancer is the most common cancer in Ireland. It is most common in those over 60. Men are twice as likely as women to have BCC and three times as likely to have SCC. It is believed that men are more exposed to the sun from working outdoors and playing sport, and from not using sunscreen or wearing protective clothing. In 2012, about 9,400 people were diagnosed with it, with 5190 men and 4,210 women. Annually the death rate is about 50, with more males 33 than females 17. 

Causes of Skin Cancer

The main cause of skin cancer is ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun. Sun exposure is the best natural source of Vitamin D and is important for good general health. We can all enjoy the outdoors but we just need to think about how we protect our skin when outside. Outdoor workers are at higher risk than other workers.

Employer Protective Measures

There are a range of protective measures as follows:

  • If possible, plan outdoor work in sunny weather to limit duration and intensity of employee exposure to direct sunlight (1100 to 1500 sun rays are most intense)
  • Limit duration of exposure if possible when UV index is high (3 or above), do indoor work if possible
  • Provide shade if possible
  • Give information to employees about dangers of sun exposure
  • Inform employees about the Sun Smart code
  • Educate and encourage employees to self-check skin for signs of skin cancer
  • Check UV index, if 3 or above greater risk www.cancer.ie/reduce-your-risk/sunsmart/uv-index
  • Ensure breaks are taken out of direct sunlight
  • Encourage employees to cover up, keep clothing on with sleeves down  and collars up, wear clothing with high ultraviolet protection factor (UPF), 15 or more, wear hat
  • Ensure employees do not strip off clothing when it is sunny
  • Provide sun screen, SPF of at least 30 and UVA label on bottle
  • Provide sun glasses

Sun Smart Code

  1. Seek some shade where possible
  2. Slip on some clothes
  3. Wear sunglasses
  4. Use sunscreen
  5. Know the UV index

Useful Sites

Irish Cancer Society at www.cancer.ie

Skinmama courtesy of the EU Health Program skinmama.eu/