Skin Cancer from Sun Exposure

Comedian Sean Lock sadly passed away last month from an, as-yet undisclosed, form of cancer. His first brush with the disease came when he suffered from skin cancer, which he attributed to his work on building sites prior to his career as a stand-up.

Lock worked as a labourer after leaving school back in the 1980s. The building site mentality of that era did not consider sun protection.  Even though he said he did not burn very often, although he did see co-workers do so on a regular basis, it was a girlfriend of the time that probably saved his life when she noticed a small patch of black, misshapen skin on his back.

Lock said he had no idea it was there. He couldn’t see it and it didn’t hurt or itch, but the girlfriend had discovered a malignant melanoma. His decision to consult a dermatologist straight away probably extended his life by over thirty years.  Even then, Lock admits he didn’t take his condition too seriously, although he had the lump cut out under local anaesthetic, he has since said that as a young man in his twenties he did not realise malignant melanoma meant skin cancer.

One of the primary causes of skin cancer is ultra-violet (UV) light exposure. It is important to draw the distinction between sunshine and ultraviolet light; although UV exposure comes mainly from natural sunlight, some exposure still occurs when it is cloudy as UV rays can pass through cloud. UV exposure can also come from sunbeds (users and operators) as well as some chemicals and ionising radiation.

If work keeps your employees outdoors for a long time, their skin could be exposed to more UV than is healthy for them. This is particularly the case for those with fair or freckled skin that doesn’t tan, or goes red or burns before it tans, and also persons with red or fair hair, or light-coloured eyes, or a large number of moles.

Employers should plan work so that UV exposure is minimised; working on the side of the building where shade falls is one approach. But, where work in direct sunlight is required, your employees need to know that they should, wherever possible:

  • keep their top on
  • for tasks where hard hats aren’t required, wear a hat with a brim or a flap that covers the ears and the back of the neck
  • stay in the shade whenever possible, during your breaks and especially at lunch time
  • use a high factor sunscreen on any exposed skin
  • drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration
  • check skin regularly for any unusual moles or spots and to see a doctor promptly if they find anything that is changing in shape, size or colour, itching or bleeding

If this alert has raised questions or you need to discuss any other health & safety related issue do not hesitate to contact your Health & Safety Consultant or the main office for advice / assistance.