Construction industry should focus on sun exposure risks

Occupational health professionals have warned construction sector employers that they must do more to ensure Britain’s 2.4 million construction workers cover up and put on sun protection when working outside.

The Society of Occupational Medicine has issued the warning on the back of research published in its Occupational Medicine scientific journal arguing that skin cancer is a major threat to building workers.

University of Manchester researchers found that some construction workers were up to nine times more likely to get skin cancer than other workers from a similar social group and background.

They had a higher risk because of long periods working outside in direct sunlight and ultraviolet rays reflecting off nearby surfaces such as concrete.

The study also revealed that labourers in the building and construction trades had significantly increased incidence of other health conditions because of their work compared with other workers.

“Neglecting to cover up under the hot sun can be just as dangerous as forgetting to wear a hard hat,” said Dr Henry Goodall, president of the Society of Occupational Medicine.

“We need to send a clear message that the days of the topless builder are over.”

Dr Raymond Agius, who led the research team, added: “Many [construction workers] are unaware that their work can put their health at risk of a whole range of conditions, including asbestos-induced tumours and skin cancer. More work is needed to support and inform them.”

A separate study in the same journal highlighted the importance of employer-led sun safety interventions in the construction industry.

The team found that younger men were particularly likely to avoid wearing shirts. However, after appropriate training, workers were more likely to adopt measures such as applying sun screen, drinking plenty of water, wearing long-sleeved, loose-fitting tops and regularly checking their skin for changes.

The findings have been backed by the construction union UCATT, which has urged the industry to take decisive action to ensure that the risk of construction workers developing skin cancer is dramatically reduced.

George Guy, acting general secretary of UCATT, said: “It is essential that everyone involved in the industry ensures that construction workers are given the full information about the risks they face and the preventative measures they need to take to reduce those dangers.”

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