These sunny summer days are great. The bright summer sun gives us light, energy, and increases our vitamin D production. However, the same sun that gives us so much can be a hazard for outdoor workers. What are the hazards? Beyond heat stroke and dehydration, the ultraviolet light from the sun can also be hazardous. Even though we all react differently to sun exposure, statistics show that the stronger the source and more frequent the exposure, our risk of melanoma or skin cancer will increase.
The American Cancer Society estimates that there will be more than 87,000 new cases of melanoma diagnosed in 2017. They also forecast that around 10,000 people will die from melanoma this year. Lastly, since 2009 there has been a 20 percent increase in new cases of melanoma.
What can you do as an employee? Remember the Smokey Bear slogan about forest fire prevention, “Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires”? Well, only you can prevent skin cancer. The Skin Cancer Foundation and the Canadian Dermatology Association have published some great information on prevention. Heed the warnings and take these preventative measures:
- Cover up – wear loose clothing, long sleeves and pants
- Protect your eyes – use UV protective eyewear
- Cover your head, neck and ears – wear a wide brimmed hat or a hard hat with a brim and use a neck flap
- Take your breaks in the shade – get out of the sun when you can, especially between 11am-3pm, when UV is the strongest
- Use sunscreen and lip balm – use at least an SPF 30 broad spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen and don’t forget to reapply
- Be skin safe – report changes in skin spots and moles to your doctor as soon as possible – early detection is important
You would think that with all of the information out there, we would take precautions and this alarming trend would begin to decline. However, according to a small scale survey from the Skin Cancer Foundation, only 51 percent of men reported using sunscreen in the last 12 months and 70 percent did NOT know the warning signs of skin cancer. With these survey results, you can imagine this terrible trend in new cases and deaths from melanoma will continue.
What can you do if you’re an employer?
- Inform your staff about sun exposure hazards
- Provide resources to get their attention
- Provide Opportunity
- Allow staff to take breaks in the shade
- Provide ways to create shade where none is occurring naturally (like road construction)
- Help staff find reasonably priced sunscreen or provide some to them
- Help staff find reasonably priced clothing that can help block UV rays
- Consider modifying schedules to limit work during the times when exposure is greatest
If we work together as employer and employee we can help reverse the trend. Here are a list of resources that can help you get started.