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Sun exposure in the spotlight

05 June 2024

With skin cancer at an all time high, Kathryn Clifford sheds light on UV radiation as a neglected occupational hazard.

IN THE realm of occupational hazards, some dangers are overtly apparent, while others lurk in the shadows, their significance often underestimated. One such overlooked menace is the insidious impact of sun exposure on outdoor workers. With the incidence of skin cancer at an all time high, specialist skin cancer charity, SKCIN, is on a mission to elevate prevention to a top priority in the field of occupational health and safety - providing employers and health and safety representatives (HSRs) with a comprehensive solution to address their moral and legal obligations.

The nature of outdoor work

Outdoor workers, ranging from construction workers and agricultural professionals to lifeguards and utility personnel, are the backbone of many essential industries. Their dedication keeps our infrastructure functional and our society running smoothly. However, the nature of their work exposes them to the harmful effects of ultraviolet (UV) radiation, the leading cause of the UK’s most common and fastest rising cancer.

Alarming reality

UV radiation is classified as a known human carcinogen, responsible for a staggering 90% of all skin cancer cases. This places outdoor workers in one of the highest-risk groups for developing the disease.

Skin cancer is more commonly diagnosed than all other malignancies combined. Recent statistics state that in the UK 1 in 5 will develop skin cancer and due to prolonged and repeated UV exposure, outdoor workers are on average at 60% greater risk. 

The predominance of males across the UK outdoor workforce is another major concern as statistics further reveal that the incidence of skin cancer is growing at twice the rate in men than that for women, and men are 69% more likely to die from the disease.

The facts are compelling and highlight the pivotal role of employers in ensuring UV exposure is addressed as a serious occupational hazard.

Marie Tudor, CEO of SKCIN, emphasised the urgency of the issue: “With rates of skin cancer rising faster than any other, (predicted to reach in excess of 400,000 annual cases by 2025) - these statistics provide only a snapshot of what the future holds. Urgent action is needed to combat this major public health concern and to save lives and suffering from this devastating disease”. 

Overlooked hazard

Despite the potential dangers, sun protection often takes a back seat for outdoor workers. There are several factors contributing to this negligence:

  • Lack of awareness: Many outdoor workers are unaware of the serious consequences of prolonged sun exposure. Skin cancer might not be an immediate concern, leading to a lack of precautionary measures.
  • Stigma and perceived toughness: In certain professions, wearing protective clothing or seeking shade can be stigmatised as a sign of weakness. The "tough it out" mentality prevails, pushing workers to endure harsh conditions without proper protection.
  • Misplaced priorities: Occupational health and safety measures often focus on more immediate dangers like falls, equipment malfunction, or chemical exposure. Skin cancer, with its slow progression, does not receive the attention it deserves.
  • Inadequate regulations: While some industries have guidelines in place, they might be insufficient or loosely enforced. Stringent regulations regarding sun protection are often lacking, allowing the hazard to persist.

Urgent need for prioritisation

Several compelling reasons underscore the urgency of elevating skin cancer prevention among outdoor workers as an occupational disease priority area:

  • Health impact: Skin cancer is not just a cosmetic concern; it can be deadly. By prioritising prevention, we can safeguard the health and lives of countless workers.
  • Economic burden: Treating skin cancer places a significant financial burden on healthcare systems and employers. Prevention is not only ethically responsible but also economically prudent.
  • Changing climate: The ongoing climate change exacerbates the risk by increasing UV radiation levels. As outdoor workers face more extreme conditions, their vulnerability to skin cancer escalates.
  • Rising incidence: Rates of skin cancer are rapidly rising as a result of the affects of long-term unprotected exposure and lack of prioritisation.
  • Legal obligations: There is a legal duty on every employer to provide a safe working environment and ensure, as far as reasonably practical, the health of their employees. This includes taking steps to ensure workers are protected against UV exposure.
  • Moral obligations: Beyond compliance, there is an ethical responsibility to prioritise employee well-being and ensure their long-term health.

Wake-up call

Industries should take note and be warned by skin cancer judgements in Australia where verdicts are highlighting the importance of sun safety in the workplace. Outdoor workers from various industries who have developed skin cancer as a result of over exposure to UV radiation have been awarded significant damages, establishing that skin cancer can be a serious occupational injury. 

These rulings are extremely significant, putting sun protection on the agenda with other well known occupational health and safety issues. With civil claims on the grounds of skin cancer increasing in the UK, it’s time for industry leads, employers and HSRs to take action and provide evidence of their commitment.

Addressing UV exposure

“Addressing UV exposure in the workplace is not quick tick box exercise. The odd tool box talk and access to sunscreen, albeit a step in the right direction, simply isn’t going to cut the mustard.” says Kathryn Clifford, co-founder of SKCIN.

“Investing in the quality education of employees is critical and the continued commitment of stakeholders vital in driving behavioural change. Having the guidance, tools and resources with which to effectively implement a comprehensive sun protection programme is paramount which is why we have developed a nationally accessible solution.”

Sun Safe Workplaces:

The Sun Safe Workplaces accreditation programme is a visionary initiative forged by SKCIN in a mission to raise the roof on sun safety and skin cancer among the nation’s outdoor workforce. 

The programme offers a comprehensive solution, providing employers with everything they need to fulfil their duty of care and provide quality, trusted training for their employees. 

“With 90% of skin cancer cases preventable and almost all cases curable if detected and diagnosed early, empowering employees through education is the linchpin of change.” adds Kathryn.

“With appropriate education, organisations can foster a culture of skin health, drive much needed awareness and save lives and suffering from this largely avoidable disease.”

Prevention is better than cure, but for many outdoor workers, sadly the damage is already done. It is therefore equally as important for employers to educate their workforce on the importance of regular self-examination and how to identify abnormalities that could indicate the early warning signs.”

The Sun Safe Workplaces programme provides employers and HSRs with bespoke training and supportive resources to ensure workers understand the risks imposed by UV radiation, know how to reduce that risk, and the confidence to check their skin for the early signs of both melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer. 

The training can be delivered in group sessions or completed online in an employees own time, making the training accessible to all and achievable for large organisations.

In addition to the training, the programme further supports employers with a dedicated platform and range of management tools with which to:

  • Conduct Solar UVR risk assessments
  • Review sun protection control measures
  • Implement a robust Sun Protection Policy
  • Create on-site awareness
  • Reinforce key messaging
  • Monitor programme effectiveness
  • Provide evidence of commitment and success
  • Become accredited and acknowledged for best practice


For too long UV Radiation has been overlooked as a serious occupational hazard, leaving outdoor workers unprotected from a known carcinogen. The time has come for industries, employers and HSRs to make skin cancer prevention and early detection a top priority in the field of occupational health and safety - and with a national, dedicated solution now in place, action can be impactful and imminent.

Kathryn Clifford is co-founder of SKCIN. For more information, visit www.sunsafeworkplaces.co.uk