Occupational Skin Cancer: The Facts
The Law Of… Protecting Your Skin
Skin cancer is the third most common type of cancer, affecting 15,419 people each year in the UK. Fortunately, the survival rates of skin cancer are currently at 90% but that doesn't mean those with skin cancer do not suffer in other serious ways.
Industrial Disease specialist, Gavin Evans provides insight into how your job can increase your chances of skin cancer and how to protect yourself from this potentially lethal disease.
What Is Occupational Skin Cancer?
There are two types of skin cancer. Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer (NMSC) is caused by harmful ultraviolet radiation from the sun that can occur even on cloudy days. The radiation damages the skin. Most NMSC can be treated, usually with a simple operation.
Malignant Melanoma is caused in the same way as NMSC, but is more serious as it can spread to other parts of the body. This sort of cancer occurs in the skin cells called melanocytes, which is where skin pigmentation is found. It is a rarer form of cancer than NMSC and surgery can prove successful if the melanoma is caught early.
Occupational skin cancer is where the above types of cancer are caused by exposure to harmful radiation as part of your job. If you work outdoors for a long time, your skin can be exposed to more sun than is healthy for you, causing you to get skin cancer.
What Causes Occupational Skin Cancer?
The sun is the most common cause of skin cancer. Another, lesser known, cause of work-related skin cancer is the unsafe exposure to harmful chemicals. Some of the substances that can cause skin cancer include:
- Coal tar
- Ionising radiation
- Non-ionising radiation
- Paraffin wax
If you work with any substances that put you at risk of skin cancer, you should be provided with training and equipment that will protect you from them.
Who Is Most At Risk Of Occupational Skin Cancer?
There are some jobs that put workers at a greater risk of skin cancer as the job is predominantly carried out outdoors.
Industries where workers are most at risk of skin cancer are:
The Health and Safety Executive also warns workers that some are more liable to skin cancer than others. People with white skin are the most at risk.
They warn workers to take particular care if they have:
- Fair or freckled skin that doesn't tan
- Skin that goes red or burns before it tans
- Red or fair hair and light coloured eyes
- 50 or more moles across their body
How Can Workers At Risk Of Skin Cancer Protect Themselves?
Even if your skin is not fair and freckled, you still need to be careful when working outside. The sun is the most intense in the summer from around 11-2pm, but it's still worth being careful, even in the winter.
To avoid the dangers of ultraviolet radiation:
- Avoid the mild reddening which is a sign of skin damage and an early sign of burning
- Take breaks in the shade if possible
- Keep vulnerable areas covered (e.g. back of the neck, head)
- Avoid getting a tan
- Cover up as much skin with clothing as you can
- Use a sun protector cream of at least 15 (SPF) on all areas of exposed skin
What Are Occupational Skin Cancer Symptoms?
It's incredibly important to regularly check your skin for any signs of skin cancer as chances of survival are good if it is caught early.
Some signs of skin cancer include:
- Small scabby spots that don't clear after a few weeks
- Changes in moles
- Newly formed moles
- Skin discolouration
There are some areas that are more prone to skin cancer as they are areas where the skin is particularly thin.
Make sure to check:
- The backs of hands
If you do notice anything unusual or are concerned about your exposure to the sun, consult a medical professional like your GP. Make sure to explain that you work in a job where you are predominantly outside.
Changes to the skin in this way are usually harmless, but checks by a medical professional will rule out anything more serious. Don't put off going to the doctor as the smaller the spot, the easier it is to treat.
Can I Claim For Occupational Skin Cancer?
Employers have a duty of care to their workers. They must ensure that their employees are not harmed or injured whilst in their place of work and that includes exposure to ultraviolet radiation or harmful substances that can cause skin cancer.
If you have developed skin cancer and you were not provided with adequate training in how to safeguard against harmful substances or ultraviolet radiation, you could be entitled to compensation for the damages suffered.
How Can Simpson Millar Help?
We have a dedicated team of industrial disease specialist solicitors who seek compensation on the behalf of claimants who have suffered because of the carelessness of their employer.
"It's so easy for workers to become complacent when it comes to skin care. It's important to remember that the skin remembers every exposure it is put through. Years of exposure can lead to skin cancer."
"Employers should provide enough shady areas for workers to escape overexposure. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence provide guidance for employers on providing communal outdoor areas for workers."
"I implore anyone who notices a change in their skin, to go and see their GP. There is nothing lost by going and when you risk skin cancer, there's no better reason than to head to your local medical practice to get checked out."
If you are suffering with skin cancer that you think could have been prevented by your employer, call our free helpline today for an initial consultation.