Outdoor work in the UK comes with a deadly skin cancer risk

British workers exposed to the elements account for 2 per cent of cases of the most deadly form of skin cancer, a new study has concluded. Exposure to harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun while at work leads to one death and five new cases of malignant melanoma every week, the authors found.

Construction workers are most at risk of malignant melanoma (44 per cent of deaths) followed by those who work in agriculture (23 per cent). Police, the armed forces and other public administration workers are also susceptible, according to the study published online in the British Journal of Cancer. The researchers estimated there are 48 deaths and 241 cases of melanoma skin cancer each year in Britain caused by people being exposed to the sun while working.

Dr Lesley Rushton, lead researcher from Imperial College London, said: “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.”

She added: “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 authors found the main industries “of concern” were construction, agriculture, public administration and defence and land transport. Construction workers accounted for 21 deaths and 101 cases of malignant melanoma. “We estimate that 2 per cent of all cutaneous malignant melanoma in Britain can be attributed to occupational exposure to solar radiation giving approximately one death and five new cancers per week,” they concluded. “This highlights the need to develop appropriate strategies to reduce this burden.”

  • Lesley Rushton and Sally J Hutchings. The burden of occupationally-related cutaneous malignant melanoma in Britain due to solar radiation, short communication, British Journal of Cancer, advance online publication, 17 January 2017 [abstract].

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