The Risks of Skin Cancer and How to Keep Your Skin Safe

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in Australia. It’s also the most preventable. Two in three Australians are diagnosed with skin cancer by age 70. It’s a leading cause of death in Australia, where the rate of incidence is two to three times the rates in the United States, Canada, and the UK. The unfortunate truth is that many cases of skin cancer could have been prevented with proper skin protection.

Early detection of skin cancer is key. The sooner it is identified, and the sooner treatment can occur, the more likely a person is to overcome the cancer. Continue reading to learn more about skin cancer awareness, how to prevent skin cancer, and what employers can do to help.

Skin Cancer Awareness

Skin cancer is a growing problem in Australia, but it can be prevented with proper precautions and sun protection.

National Skin Cancer Action Week runs from November 17-23 for 2019. The week is presented by Cancer Council Australia and the Australasian College of Dermatologists in order to bring awareness about skin cancer prevention to Australians.

Cancer Council Australia claims that each year more than 2,000 people in Australia die from skin cancer. They estimate treating skin cancer costs the country more than $1 billion annually, with that cost notably increasing in recent years.

Skin cancer is an abnormal growth of skin cells, and it usually occurs when skin cells are damaged from exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Prolonged exposure and overexposure to the sun’s UV radiation can cause skin cell mutations. There are three different types of skin cancer: Basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma—melanoma being the most dangerous.

When detected and managed early, many instances of skin cancer are treatable and curable. If skin cancer spreads too quickly, it can spread beyond your skin to other parts of your body, making it not only difficult to treat but impossible to cure.

How to Protect Your Skin

Examine Your Skin

Skin cancer is one of the easiest cancers to detect, as it’s one you can see developing with your own eyes. Skin cancer can occur anywhere on your skin, even in areas that do not see consistent sun exposure.

Check your skin for moles or abnormal spots you don’t recognize. If you spot a mole, measure it. If it grows, it could very likely be a cancerous cell. It’s important to check in places you wouldn’t normally think about, such as your scalp or underneath your finger and toenails. Look for dome-shaped growths, scaly skin patches, strange sores that don’t heal, brown or black streaks underneath your nails, or changing moles. If you spot one, visit your doctor or find a dermatologist.

Check the UV Index

A UV Index is a standardised measurement that tells you the intensity of the UV radiation at any given time. Check current weather forecasts to determine your risk of exposure each day. Anything above 11 is considered an extreme UV rating, and extra precautions should be taken when outdoors.

UV Index.png

Source: Australian capital city average daily maximum UV levels by month

UVA/UVB Sunscreen

Apply sunscreen regularly, and not just for days spent at the beach or by the pool. You can get a sunburn on cloudy days or even in the winter when it snows. You should apply sunscreen to any part of your skin that’s not covered by your clothing whenever you spend time outside. Reapplication is required approximately every two hours. Read your sunscreen for specific details on reapplication and to determine if it is waterproof.

Choose a sunscreen that has both UVA and UVB protection. UVA is long wave ultraviolet A and UVB is short wave ultraviolet B, and both are harmful. Look at the UV index for the day to determine the risk of sun exposure.

Wear UPF Clothing

Not all clothing is alike when it comes to sun protection. Covering up doesn’t block out all UV rays, which means the sun could be damaging your skin through your clothing. Any fabric you can see light through lets in UV radiation. Choose clothing that has a sufficient UPF rating during the summer or if you work a job that requires you to spend prolonged amounts of time under the sun.

UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) is the amount of UV radiation that will be absorbed by a fabric. Clothing with a UPF of 50 blocks 98% of the sun’s rays, allowing only two percent (1/50th) to get through. Outdoor workers should look for clothing with a high rating of 40 or 50 UPF.

UV-Blocking Sunglasses

Exposing your eyes to UV radiation can cause a number of adverse health effects, including age-related cataracts, pterygium, and cancer of the skin around the eye.

UV radiation is a problem throughout the year, especially for work environments that have reflective surfaces. Sunglasses are not only for summer use, as UV rays can be particularly harmful when reflected off of white snow.

Polarization and photosensitive darkening are not enough to protect eyes from UV radiation. Sunglasses and prescription sunglasses need to absorb the entire UV spectrum (UVB and UVA). Look for sunglasses that absorb 99-100% of the full UV spectrum to 400 nm. Avoid protective eyewear that claims to “block harmful UV” without stating how much or what type of protection you are getting.

Seek Shade

You should seek shade whenever possible. Get out of the sun’s direct rays, especially when exposure is at its highest in the early to mid-afternoon. Create your own shade using a wide-brimmed hat or umbrella when shade is not available.

What Employers Can Do

Provide Sunscreen for Outdoor Workers

Despite its importance, sunscreen is often quite expensive. Workers may skip it altogether to cut down on costs or opt for cheap versions that don’t offer the necessary protection needed for workers who spend a lot of time outside. Employers can provide sunscreen to workers on the job to help ensure proper sunscreen is used. Ensure your workforce knows how often to reapply throughout the day.

Allow Breaks to Reapply Sunscreen

Having sunscreen available doesn’t do much good if employees are not able to reapply it. Offer employees who work outside in the sun the opportunity to reapply sunscreen throughout the day. Regular breaks for sunscreen application can ensure your workforce is protected from the sun all day long.

Provide Shaded Areas

Shade is extremely important for outdoor workers. Ensure break areas offer a shady respite from the sun. Shade isn’t only necessary in the summer, as harmful radiation is a danger at all times of the year. If you do not have any naturally occurring shaded areas, create them using tents or umbrellas. For permanent workplaces, planting trees will produce new shaded areas in the years to come.

Schedules to Minimize Sun Exposure

You can minimize your employees’ exposure to the sun by scheduling outdoor work earlier or later in the day. Use the morning or evening for work that exposes workers to direct sunlight. If workers are required to work outside at all times, rotate schedules to reduce each individual’s sun exposure.

Provide Sun Safety Training

Education around skin cancer and the harmful impact of sun exposure is paramount to a safe and healthy workforce. Every business, no matter the trade, can provide their workforce with resources explaining how to identify skin cancer and how to prevent skin damage from occurring. If you have a business that requires workers to spend large amounts of time outside, it is your obligation to ensure they understand the risks involved as well as what is needed to protect themselves.

Routine Employee Medicals

The sooner skin cancer is detected, the better chance you have of treating it and beating it. Routine employee medicals help businesses and employees keep up with developing or potential health concerns. They consist of a range of tests that aim to identify potential health risks before it’s too late.

💡 Why an Annual Medical Could Be the Best Investment Your Business Makes

Medical assessments encourage employees to think about their own health, and they contribute to the overall wellbeing of a workforce. They are well worth the investment for any business.

Workforce Health Assessors offers comprehensive pre-employment, pre-placement, and periodic medical assessments tailored to the needs of your business. We organise, perform, and report on all health assessments and medicals to help you determine the suitability of candidates for your business and mitigate risks in the workplace. Our tests are carefully designed and vary depending on the specifications of the role a candidate will fill. Learn more about our health assessment services.

Continue Supporting Your Workforce

Construction workers are highly vulnerable to workplace injury and fatality because of the dangerous equipment they work with and the hazardous environments they work in. Learn more about the importance of Pre-Employment Medicals for the Building and Construction Industry.

Pre-employment medicals manage workplace risk by ensuring employees can meet the physical demands of a job. Learn Why Pre-Employment Medicals are a Win-Win for Employers and Employees.