One in three non-melanoma skin cancer deaths are linked to outdoor work

Nonmelanoma skin cancer refers to a group of cancers that develop in the upper layers of the skin. The two main subtypes of this cancer are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.

The research highlights the alarming burden caused by the disease through occupational exposure to solar ultraviolet radiation and emphasizes the need for far better preventive measures.

Estimates show that in 2019, approximately 1.6 billion working-age people aged 15 or older were exposed to ultraviolet solar radiation while working outdoors, equivalent to 28 percent of the global working-age population.

In the same year, nearly 19,000 people in 183 countries succumbed to non-melanoma skin cancer due to sun exposure working outdoors, the majority (65 percent) of them being men.

Third highest risk in the workplace

“Unprotected exposure to ultraviolet solar radiation in the workplace is a major cause of occupational skin cancer. But there are effective solutions to protect workers from the sun’s harmful rays and prevent their deadly effects,” emphasized Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director General.

Occupational exposure to ultraviolet solar radiation has been identified as the third highest work-related risk factor for cancer deaths globally.

In the period from 2000 to 2019, skin cancer deaths linked to workplace sun exposure nearly doubled, increasing by 88 percent from 10,088 deaths in 2000 to 18,960 deaths in 2019.

Deaths are largely preventable

According to Gilbert Houngbo, ILO Director General, deaths from occupational exposure are “largely preventable through cost-effective measures”.

“It is urgent that governments, employers and workers work together to reduce the occupational risk of UV exposure. This could save thousands of lives every year,” he highlighted.

The two UN agencies are calling for more robust action to protect workers from the dangers of exposure to sunlight.

This will require protection from ultraviolet solar radiation to start when workers first start outdoors so they can be protected throughout their careers.

A farmer in Vanuatu works under the sun.

A farmer in Vanuatu works under the sun.

Government action

Policy recommendations include providing shade, adjusting work hours away from midday sun, education and training, and equipping workers with sunscreen and personal protective clothing.

In addition, measures should be taken when the ultraviolet index, a measure of skin-damaging ultraviolet radiation, reaches level three or higher.

To support these efforts, UN agencies launched last June SunSmart Global UV app, enabling outdoor workers to assess their exposure to solar ultraviolet radiation as well as provide UV and weather forecasts. The app is available for download on Apple and Android platforms.

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