Minneapolis, MN, Sept 26–Although Labor Day marks the end of summer as well as a holiday pause to honor “the working man,” it does not mark the end of significant risk for working people exposed to dangerous ultra-violet rays (UVR), particularly the nine million outdoor workers who account for eight percent of the total domestic workforce.
Outdoor workers — environmental scientists and technicians, farmers and other agricultural workers, construction workers, zoo keepers, postmen, utility workers, life guards, ski instructors, tour guides, border officials and police — participate in many of the critical occupations that keep our country and families healthy, safe and secure.
Although some are seasonal workers, the majority of outdoor workers work outside all day, every day, all year long. While conventional wisdom might suggest that as the seasons change the need for sun protection diminishes, the facts point in a different direction:
· The intensity of exposure to UVR may vary with the changing seasons based on location. The closer to the equator, the less variation there is in UVR levels. Outdoor workers in southern states will still receive high levels of UVR during winter months.
· In northern states, while direct exposure to UVR may fall, factors such as elevation (UV radiation goes up 3% for every 400 meters or approximately 1,312 feet of altitude), cloud cover (UV is reflected from moisture in clouds on overcast days) and surface reflections (about 80% of UVR is reflected from snow) means there is continuous risk of UV exposure even during non-summer months
Outdoor workers’ UVR risk is compounded by the fact that they may not be receiving or using the information they need to stay safe while working outside in dangerous UVR-intense environments. Studies show that:
· Skin cancer is at epidemic levels with 2.1 million Americans treated for 3.5 million cases of the cancers in 2006. The last national estimate (1994) pegged the number of non-melanoma skin cancers at between 900,000 and 1.2 million.
· Outdoor workers are twice as likely to contract skin cancer as indoor workers, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.
· A 2008 study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, found that that workers who need skin exams the most by nature of their occupation — such as construction, forestry, fishing and farming workers — are the least likely to get them.
· A 2007 global survey of outdoor workers concluded: “Some workers take precautions while working outdoors in the sun, but the vast majority of outdoor workers studied in the United States, Canada, and the Mediterranean region – the regions for which there are multiple publications – do not practice adequate or any sun safety. Sun protection may not yet be a priority in most outdoor work environments in these countries.”
If you or someone you know works outside, don’t become a statistic. Make it a habit to practice outdoor sun safety by being SunAWARE.
A – Avoid unprotected exposure and seek shade. If possible, rotate working hours to avoid exposure during the hottest part of the day.
W – Wear sun protective clothing including a shirt with long sleeves, a hat with a 3” brim & sunglasses.
A – Apply broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 & reapply regularly.
R – Routinely check your skin & report suspicious lesions promptly.
E – Educate others.
SunAWARE, headquartered in Minneapolis, is a not-for-profit 501 (c) (3) educational organization dedicated to the prevention and detection of skin cancer. Its SunAWARE website provides advice and free educational materials and resources for use by educators, advocates and the general public.