Advice & Information

Skin Cancer Risks for Outdoor Workers

Date: March 01, 2018 by IDU

We’ve all become more aware of the skin cancer risks associated with exposure to the sun (on the seemingly rare occasions we see it!). More of us are topping up on high factor sunscreens for our beach breaks and yet, according to the British Skin Foundation, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the UK and rates are continuing to rise.


We may have become more risk averse on the beach, but it seems that we are not applying the same level of sun protection in the workplace. According to research from Imperial College London, published in the British Journal of Cancer earlier this year, working in the sun could lead to one death and around five new cases of melanoma skin cancer a week.


The researchers estimated that in Britain each year there are 48 deaths and 241 cases of melanoma skin cancer caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun at work. Of those ‘at risk’ occupations, construction workers were the most significant (44% of deaths), followed by agricultural workers (23% of deaths). More surprisingly, perhaps, 10% of deaths were amongst public administration and defence workers, including the police and the armed forces.


Recent research conducted by The University of Nottingham also found that two thirds of a sample of construction workers who worked outside for an average of nearly seven hours a day thought they were not at risk or were unsure if they were at risk from the sun. Clearly the message is not getting through.


These are preventable deaths and employers have an important role to play in bringing the fatality numbers down by ensuring their workers are aware of sun exposure risks and how to combat them. Employers should put training in place for their employees on the risks of working in the sun and how to lessen those risks as far as possible.


The Health and Safety at Work Act makes it clear that there is a legal responsibility on every employer to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health of their employees. Employers must also provide information, instruction and supervision to ensure safety – not just from immediate injury but also any danger to long term health.


The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations also require the employer to conduct a suitable risk assessment of risks to health of the workforce. This includes any risk from any hazard that may cause cancer. The regulations go on to state that the employer must identify and then introduce preventative and protective measures needed to improve workplace health and safety.


Campaign organisations continue to do an excellent job of raising awareness around the risks of skin cancer and businesses and employees can access resources such as these helpful HSE pages.
As with many cancers, the earlier you can identify the disease the better. If you notice any changes to the skin (e.g. changes in the appearance of moles or they begin to itch) you should immediately seek medical advice. If, after seeking medical advice, you are diagnosed with skin cancer and you suspect that this may be related to your current or previous employment then it is important also to discuss your concerns with a specialist legal adviser.