Shining a light on outdoor worker sun safety

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer diagnosed in Northern Ireland, with around 3,780 cases every year. With this in mind The Public Health Agency (PHA) and Cancer Focus Northern Ireland have joined forces to remind outdoor workers to protect their skin from sun damage.

Farmers, builders, grounds staff and postal workers are just some of the people at higher risk of sun damage due to the length of time they spend working outdoors.

Dr Miriam McCarthy, Consultant in Public Health at the PHA, explained: “Everyone is at risk of sun damage but certain groups, such as people who spend a significant amount of time working outdoors, are particularly at risk.

“Local employers have been very enthusiastic and over the past year have worked with us on developing a range of of materials, including a workplace sun safe policy, to raise awareness of the risks associated with over exposure to UV rays.”

John McGerty, Health and Safety Manager at Gilbert Ash, said: “We are using these new resources as we want to protect the health of our employees and skin cancer is a real concern for our staff who work outside. This initiative has helped considerably to improve knowledge and awareness of sun safety issues in the outdoor work sector. Everyone who works outside needs to think about sun protection, even on cooler, breezy days.”

Marbeth Ferguson, Skin Cancer Prevention Coordinator at Cancer Focus NI, said: “We are delighted that Gilbert Ash, along with many other employers, are involved in this initiative through their use of our sun safety resource pack and through provision of guidance on skin cancer prevention and early detection.

“The damage caused by the sun can accumulate over time and may lead to skin cancer, so it is important for workers to check their skin regularly for any unusual moles or spots. If you notice any changes to a mole or patch of normal skin, tell your doctor, who may refer you for further assessment or treatment.”

There are a number of steps that will protect against the sun’s harmful rays when working outdoors:

  • Wear a long-sleeved top, sunglasses and a hat with a brim or flap that protects the ears and neck.
  • On exposed skin use sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 15 for UVB protection, and 4 star for UVA protection. Extra care and a higher SPF factor may be needed if you have paler or freckled skin. Apply liberally 30 minutes before going out in the sun and re-apply at least every two hours
  • Be sure to cover areas which are sometimes missed, such as the lips, ears, around the eyes, neck, scalp, lower back and backs of hands
  • Where possible take breaks in the shade especially when the sun is at its strongest – generally 11am to 3pm

If you are concerned about skin cancer you can also call the Cancer Focus NI free information and support helpline on 0800 783 3339 or email one of the charity’s nurses on [email protected]

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