One of the most interesting and potentially important current stories we’re following involves a transit driver from Halifax.
The Nova Scotia bus driver was diagnosed with actinic keratosis — lesions that can turn into carcinoma — mostly on the left side of his face and temple. He claimed to have contracted the lesions as a result of his occupation–22 years driving buses, 17 of them on the day shift, and that he sat with his left side less than a foot from the window.
Although he admitted that as a child he spent a lot of time in the sun, a Canadian appeal panel agreed, ruling that the driver is eligible for workers compensation because his chronic sun exposure constitutes a workplace injury.
He is not alone. In Canada, a cruise-ship captain, police officer and letter carrier are among those who have successfully fought for payments to compensate apparently sun-triggered cancer.
As you might imagine, Canadian employers, lawyers and the health community are watching these rulings very carefully. Canadians contract approximately 75,000 cases annually and according to some reports Canadians born in the 19902 are three times as likely to get skin cancer in their lifetimes as their more elderly counterparts.
News articles we’ve read about the case tend to focus on the issues before the appeal panel: that is, the attempt to determine if worker contracted skin cancer as a result of the workplace or as a result of childhood exposure.
In the case of the transit worker, the appeal panel concluded it was “just as likely as not” the driver’s work contributed to his illness.
According to The Windsor Star, “‘Workers compensation boards have quietly come to accept claims for sunlight-linked cancer over the last 10 years, so long as a dermatologist or oncologist can testify that the employee’s outside work may have brought on the disease,’ said Gary Newhouse, a Toronto lawyer specializing in workers-compensation claims.”
This ruling–and others like it–should send a strong signal to employers north and south of the Canadian border. Employees do have some obligation to take steps to protect themselves from dangerous exposure to the sun. However, employers have an equal obligation to educate them about the risks of outdoor employment, what preventive measures they can take and to design workplaces that are SunAWARE.