A third of non-melanoma skin cancer deaths caused by working under sun

Estimates from WHO, ILO call for protecting workers from hazardous outdoor work in the sun

By DTE Staff
Published: Thursday 09 November 2023
Photo: iStock__

Outdoor workers face a large and growing burden of non-melanoma skin cancer. Working in the sun causes nearly one-third of non-melanoma skin cancer deaths, according to World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates released on November 8, 2023. 

Occupational exposure to solar ultraviolet radiation was identified as the work-related risk factor with the third highest attributable burden of cancer deaths worldwide, according to the estimates published in the journal Environment International

In 2019, approximately 1.6 billion people of working age (15 years and older) were exposed to solar ultraviolet radiation while working outdoors, accounting for 28 per cent of all working-age people. In the same year, nearly 19,000 people in 183 countries died from non-melanoma skin cancer as a result of working outside in the sun. The majority (65 per cent) were men.

A safe and healthy working environment is a fundamental right at work, said Gilbert F Houngbo, ILO director-general in a press statement, adding:

Death caused by unprotected exposure to solar ultraviolet radiation while working is largely preventable through cost-effective measures. It is urgent that governments, employers and workers and their representatives work together in a framework of well-defined rights, responsibilities and duties to reduce the occupational risk of UV exposure. This can save thousands of lives every year

WHO has called for greater action to protect workers from hazardous outdoor work in the sun. Because skin cancer develops after years, if not decades, of exposure, workers must be protected from solar ultraviolet radiation at work beginning at a young age, it said. 

Governments should establish, implement and enforce policies and regulations that protect outdoor workers from sun-induced skin cancer, WHO further said. Some of the ways to protect workers would be by providing shade, shifting working time away from noon hours and providing education and training. Workers should also be provided with sunscreen and personal protective clothing such as broad-brimmed hats, long-sleeved shirts, and long trousers.

Furthermore, measures to reduce skin cancer risks include increasing workers' awareness of when occupational exposure to solar ultraviolet radiation occurs and that it causes skin cancer, as well as providing services and programmes to detect early signs of skin cancer.

When the ultraviolet index, a scale that rates the amount of skin-damaging ultraviolet radiation, is three or higher, protective measures should be implemented, the global health body further said. Outdoor workers can use a recently launched SunSmart Global UV Application by WHO, ILO, World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme to estimate their exposure to solar ultraviolet radiation. 

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