Skin Cancer and Working Outdoors

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • Whenever you hear the words skin cancer, you hear about sunscreen, protective clothing and staying out of the sun during the hours between 10:00 A.M. and 4:00 P.M. These are the recommended ways to protect yourself from the dangerous rays of the sun. But what happens when you work outdoors? When your job requires you to be out in the sun for hours each day?


    Skin cancer has not always been a high priority within the construction industry. Safety standards largely revolved around accidental injuries and death. Taking steps to educate laborers and others spending time in the sun for their jobs was not seen as important or necessary. Only recently, with statistics showing outdoor workers developing skin cancer twice as often as those who worked indoors, has education and prevention taken a larger role.

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    Construction workers are one group who routinely work outside in the sun. Other industries with a high rate of outdoor work include farming, utilities, outdoor entertainment including pools, landscape and garden, shipping and forestry.

    Some organizations, such as the Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund of North America, have begun taking an active role in preventing skin cancer. They have a skin cancer awareness program that discusses risk factors as well as preventive measures. During training programs, they give out cloth flaps that are secured to the back of a hardhat or cap to protect the back of the neck.

    Although many believed that laborers would not pay attention to sunscreen or protecting their skin from the sun, this turned out not to be true and many laborers now use the neck shields and sunscreen while working.


    Taking Steps to Protect Yourself


    Besides neck shields and sunscreen there are a number of ways you can protect yourself when working outdoors:

    • Keep your shirt on
    • Wear lightweight, long-sleeve shirts that allow heat to escape
    • Wear a hat with a brim or has flaps to cover your neck and ears
    • Use sunscreen with a SPF of at least 30 and reapply every two hours
    • Stay in the shade during breaks

    Remember, the sun’s rays bounce off substances such as water, concrete and other light colored surfaces. When working around these areas, be sure your sun prevention measures give you protection from both directions, both the sun’s direct rays and the rays bouncing off the surface.


    What Companies Can Do


    While companies have traditionally believed that sun protection was the responsibility of the worker, more and more companies are providing education as well as tools for workers to use when in the sun. Some of the ways companies are working to protect employees include:

    • Providing canopies, covered areas or portable shade areas to allow workers to take breaks in a shaded area
    • Educational and awareness programs
    • Providing sunscreen packets
    • Adjusting hours so that the bulk of outdoor work is done prior to 10:00 AM or after 4:00 Pm
    • Providing brimmed hats
    • Move jobs to shady areas whenever possible
    • Providing protective clothing, including sunglasses or safety glasses that filter UV rays

    If your company doesn’t offer any programs, suggest an educational and awareness program so that everyone understands the importance of taking steps to prevent skin cancer.


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    “Guidelines for Outdoor Workers,” Date Unknown, Staff Writer, Skin Cancer Foundation

    “Skin Cancer and Outdoor Workers,” Date Unknown, Staff Writer, Trade Union Congress (UK)

    “The Sun: A Construction Site Hazard for Outdoor Workers,” Date Unknown, Staff Writer, Skin Cancer Foundation

Published On: April 23, 2014