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Work Health and Safety Blog

There's so much happening in the world of health & safety. Changes in legislation and requirements, changes in best practice, changes in ... you name it. Here's my take on making it simple. Simply Genius WHS - stop guessing... manage with confidence.

Be sun smart at work and play

Maralyn Kastel - Monday, November 16, 2009

The link between skin cancer and ultraviolet radiation (UVR) has been clearly established and by reducing exposure to UVR almost all skin cancers are preventable.

The workplace is an important source of exposure to ultraviolet radiation if you are an outdoor employee because of your high exposure to UVR over extended periods of time.

Like all body tissues, the skin is made of tiny building blocks called cells.  These cells can sometimes become cancerous, for example from exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation.

Nearly all skin cancers (including melanoma) can be cured if detected and treated early. However prevention is better than cure.  Treatment for both melanoma and Non-melanoma skin cancer can require surgery, follow up treatment such as radiation therapy and result in permanent scarring.  Practising sun safe behaviours can prevent skin cancer from occurring in the first place.

What to look for

  • Lumps or sores that don't heal (like an ulcer in your mouth)
  • Coughs or hoarseness that does not go away
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Changes in your toilet habits

It is very important to check for:

  • Any new freckle, mole, sunspot or unhealed sore on your skin.
  • A spot that looks different from the other spots around it.
  • A spot that has changed in colour, size or shape over the last few weeks or months.

There are three main types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma—known as common skin cancers—and melanoma.

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC)
BCC is the most common and least dangerous form of skin cancer.  It appears as a lump or scaling area and is red, pale or pearly in colour.  As it grows it can become ulcerated like a sore that will heal or one that heals then breaks down again. It is usually found on the head, neck and upper body.

Picture: basal cell carcioma of the cheek http://bit.ly/ma4um

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)Not as dangerous as melanoma, SCC may spread to other parts of the body if not treated. It appears as a thickened red scaly spot, which may bleed easily or ulcerate. It appears on skin most often exposed to the sun and grows over some months.

Picture: squamous cell carcinoma of the cheek http://bit.ly/APQKw

This is the deadliest form of skin cancer.  If untreated, cancer cells can spread to other parts of the body.  It appears as a new spot, or as an existing spot, freckle or mole that changes colour, size or shape.  Melanoma usually has an irregular or smudgy outline and is more than one colour.  It usually grows over weeks to months, anywhere on the body (not just in places that get a lot of sun).  If it is not treated, it may spread to the lower layer of skin, where cancer cells can break off and are carried to other parts of the body.

Melanoma seems to be related to short intense episodes of sunburn, particularly during childhood, as well as long-term exposure to UV radiation over a number of years.  Also, if someone in the family has melanoma, there is a slightly greater chance that other family members may get it.  Each time your unprotected skin is exposed to UV radiation, it changes the structure of the cells and what they do.  Overexposure to UV radiation permanently damages the skin and the damage will worsen with more UV radiation.

The most important years for sun protection are during childhood.  Sunburn and overexposure to UV radiation during these years greatly increase the chance of getting melanoma.

A melanoma often has an irregular edge or surface.  It may be blotchy with brown, black, blue, red, white and/or light grey colour.  A freckle or mole that itches or bleeds is sometimes a melanoma.  A freckle or mole that becomes larger or irregular in shape may be a melanoma.

Picture: Melanoma of the Back (macular lesion) http://bit.ly/4Ck2de

Protecting your skin
Sun protection is easy when you know how.

Try to work in a sheltered area.  Use shade provided by buildings, trees, awnings and canopies.

Clothing needs to cover as much skin as possible.  Long pants or skirts are best. If shorts must be worn, they should be to the knee. Choose shirts with collars and sleeves at least to the elbow.  If you choose lightweight, light coloured materials, worn loosely, you will be cooler in the heat.

A proper hat will shade your face, ears and neck.  Choose one with a broad brim (8–10 cm) and made of a close-weave fibre.  If this doesn’t suit the work that you do, choose a cap with a flap at the back and sides.

Your eyes are also at risk of sun damage. Always wear closefitting, wrap-around sunglasses.  When buying sunglasses check the tag to ensure they meet the Australian Standard (AS 1067) and are safe for driving.  Polorised lens reduce glare making it easier to see on sunny days.  Safety glasses that meet the Australian Standard AS/NZS 1337 still provide protection from UV.

Never rely on sunscreen alone to protect your skin, as you may still get burnt.  Use sunscreen only on areas of skin you can’t cover with clothing.  Thickly apply twenty minutes before going outside and reapply every two hours to dry skin.  Choose a broad spectrum SPF 50+ sunscreen for maximum protection.  Lips also need to be protected with a lip balm containing SPF 30+ sunscreen.

Job task rotation
Do outdoor jobs early in the morning.  If this is difficult to do, try sharing outdoor tasks with other employees, so that the same person is not always out in the sun.  Use a shaded or indoor area for lunch and tea breaks. Do jobs that can be done in the shade or indoors when UV is strongest.

Talk with your workers about sun safety and include heat stress and how to reduce the risks.

No matter what type of skin you have, you are at risk of developing skin cancers

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