Outdoor Workers are Twice as Likely to Develop Skin Cancer

Do you have employees that primarily work outdoors?   Is so, know this...outdoor workers are at particular risk of developing skin cancer due to prolonged, often, year-round exposure to ultraviolet rays.  According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, outdoor workers experience twice the amount of nonmelanoma skin cancers (basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas ) as indoor workers.

The Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund of North America recognizes this danger and has been building awareness about these dangers to its members for years through sun-safety awareness posters and anecdotal and informational newsletter articles like this one:  “Skin Cancer and Construction Laborers: Something New Under the Sun”.

Those Harmful Rays
The sun emits two types of UV light that we need to be concerned with when it comes to skin protection: UVA and UVB.

Here's a Quick 411 on UV Rays:

  • Ultraviolet A (UVA) = long-wave rays; cause underlying, long-term damaging effects like premature aging
  • Ultraviolet B (UVB) = shortwave rays; cause sunburn

UVA rays had long been considered to be the less dangerous ones, however, studies over the past two decades have revealed that both rays are dangerous and contribute to the development of skin cancer.   The Skin Cancer Foundation has much more in-depth information about the characteristics of UVA and UVB rays on its site.

In addition to seeking out shaded areas and wearing wide-brimmed hats and protective clothing, applying sunscreen frequently is another key component to combating the skin’s absorption of harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays.

Sunscreen SPF numbers
SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor, and SPF numbers were introduced in 1962 as a way to measure a sunscreen's effectiveness in blocking UVB rays.  As mentioned, UVB rays had long been considered the more dangerous of the two, and for that reason, most sunscreen products, until recently, only provided protection against UVB light.  However, more and more manufacturers today are offering lotions and sprays with dual protection, i.e., broad-spectrum protection.

According to How Stuff Works, “To determine a sunscreen's SPF, testers round up 20 sun-sensitive people and measure the amount of UV rays it takes them to burn without sunscreen.  Then they redo the test with sunscreen.  The "with sunscreen" number is divided by the "without sunscreen" number, and the result is rounded down to the nearest five.  This is the SPF.

That explains how the SPF number is derived, but now on to what that SPF number means for you and your employees.  Below is an equation that you may be familiar with and it can help you determine “maximum sun exposure time” given a particular SPF number.

Your minutes to burn without sunscreen x SPF number = Your maximum sun exposure time

We caution you, before grabbing the highest SPF you can find and telling your employees to use it and they’ll be protected all day -- that this equation is best referenced as a guide to determining maximum exposure time, since it doesn’t factor in real-world variables such as the ones stated below:

  • Most people only apply about half of the necessary amount
  • Most people don’t reapply after excessive sweating or toweling off

SPF Number and UV Protection Chart
Now, a sunscreen with SPF 15 is good, and one with SPF 30 is better…  But you may be surprised to find out that sunscreen with SPF 50 or higher does not provide a significant increase in UV protection compared to SPF 30, which already absorbs 96.7 percent UV rays.

Sunscreen Takeaways for Your Employees
Recommend that they...

  • Use a sunscreen that provides broad-spectrum protection, both UVA and UVB
  • Use a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher
  • Reapply sunscreen AT LEAST every two hours

Click here for more guidelines you can share with your outdoor workers.

Information for this article was gathered from: HowStuffWorks.com, Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund of North America, Skin Cancer Foundation.