More than skin deep: The real risks of sunburn

In light of the current soaring temperatures and searing heat, outdoor workers have been urged to heed warnings on the risks of sun exposure by the Health and Safety Authority (HSA).

The HSA has issued a short guide on sun protection for outdoor workers and a warning of overexposure to harmful sun rays.

The guide provides useful information on skin cancers – which are much more common in outdoor workers than those who work indoors.

Skin Cancer

Cancer is a disease of the body cells. The cells do not behave as normal and keep on growing to form a primary tumour.

If a cancer is malignant, the cells can break away from the body part where they form and be carried by the bloodstream or lymph vessels elsewhere and form a secondary tumour.

Skin cancer is caused by abnormal growth of the cells nearest the skin, squamous, basal and melanocytes.

Source: HSA

Squamous and basal cells form non melanoma skin cancer while melanocytes cells which give the skin its pigment or colour form melanoma skin cancer.

Basal cell cancers (BCC) are more strongly related to acute sun burn events in childhood and intermittent adult exposure – while squamous cell cancer (SCC) is mostly a result of chronic long-term occupational sun exposure.

Cases of Skin Cancer

Unfortunately the annual rates of both melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers are increasing steadily in Ireland.

There are now almost 1,000 cases of melanoma and nearly 10,000 cases of non-melanoma in Ireland annually.

In 2012, there were 860 people diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer, 470 women and 390 men. Annually about 140 people die from this cancer, with more females (84) than males (56).

Non melanoma skin cancer is the most common cancer in Ireland. It is most common in those over 60. Men are twice as likely as women to have BCC and three times as likely to have SCC.

It is believed that men are more exposed to the sun from working outdoors and playing sport, and from not using sunscreen or wearing protective clothing.

In 2012, about 9,400 people were diagnosed with it, with 5,190 men and 4,210 women. Annually the death rate is about 50, with more males (33) than females 17.

Causes of Skin Cancer

The main cause of skin cancer is ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun. Sun exposure is the best natural source of Vitamin D and is important for good general health.

We can all enjoy the outdoors but we just need to think about how we protect our skin when outside. Outdoor workers are at higher risk than other workers.

Sun Smart Code

In order to best protect yourself, the HSA has urged farmers and other outdoor workers to follow the ‘Sun Smart Code’.

This involves:
  • Seek some shade where possible;
  • Slip on some clothes;
  • Wear sunglasses;
  • Use sunscreen;
  • Know the UV index.