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Employees who are regularly exposed to sunlight are at a significantly higher risk of developing fatal skin cancer.
Science & Health

Employees who are regularly exposed to sunlight are at a significantly higher risk of developing fatal skin cancer.

According to a recent research conducted by the World Health Organization and International Labour Organization, approximately one third of deaths related to non-melanoma skin cancer can be attributed to occupational exposure to sunlight.

According to Maria Neira, the director of the WHO department of environment, climate change and health, approximately 1.6 billion workers are exposed to solar ultraviolet radiation worldwide. The level of protection against this radiation varies depending on geographical location.

According to the speaker, the amount of deaths caused by occupational non-melanoma skin cancer has increased by two times in the past two decades. Sadly, it is likely that there will be numerous cases in the coming years as it takes a significant amount of time for cancer to develop.

On Wednesday, a study was released that includes information from 183 countries and presents the most complete worldwide overview of the increasing issue of occupational health. The authors of the study suggest that governments can utilize this data to pinpoint hazardous work environments and create strategies to shield employees from the negative impacts of sun exposure.

In 2019, approximately 25% of the global population between the ages of 15 and 64 were exposed to UV radiation while working outdoors, resulting in almost 19,000 deaths from non-melanoma skin cancer.

Frank Pega, lead author of the report and a technical officer in the WHO department of environment, climate change and health, stated that they combined numerous case control studies and epidemiological evidence from three different regions of the world, involving 90,000 individuals. The results showed a 60% higher likelihood of developing non-melanoma skin cancer among individuals exposed to solar UV radiation in their workplace.

He stated, “It is not simply a matter of survival, but rather, skin cancer can be incredibly crippling. It causes numerous lesions on the skin, particularly on the face and arms, making it very noticeable. It is a significant burden for individuals, with half a million lives lost each year due to this terrible risk factor.”

According to the report, the amount of solar ultraviolet radiation that workers are exposed to has decreased by about 33% from 2000 to 2019. However, it also pointed out that during this time frame, there was an 88% rise in deaths from non-melanoma skin cancer and a 77% increase in non-melanoma skin cancer cases caused by occupational exposure to ultraviolet radiation.

Pega stated that the significant number of occupational skin cancer fatalities was uncommon, as they were evenly distributed across the globe.

Skin cancer is typically more prevalent in wealthy countries, particularly in Europe, North America, and Australasia. However, this burden is unique as it primarily impacts countries with lower and middle incomes.

“This is a pressing global health concern, affecting not only Africa but also Europe, North America, and Southeast Asia,” he stated. “This is a recent development that requires our attention.”

The World Health Organization and International Labour Organization are urging for measures to address this critical occupational danger.

According to Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of WHO, there are effective measures available to shield workers from the dangerous consequences of the sun’s rays and prevent fatalities.

Similarly to the statement made by the leader of the World Health Organization, Joaquim Pintado Nunes, who oversees the International Labour Organization’s efforts in labor administration, inspection, and safety and health, stated that avoiding fatalities from this type of exposure is inexpensive and does not demand significant resources.

For instance, implementing strategies to prevent workers from being exposed to the sun during certain hours, such as providing shade and keeping them hydrated, and supplying protective clothing to cover their skin, could potentially prevent the reported 19,000 deaths with minimal cost. This is according to the speaker.

Although Pega supports the intent of these actions, it was noted that a significant group of employees are excluded from these safeguards due to inherent inequalities within the system.

He emphasized the importance of acknowledging workers in the informal economy, who make up 61% of the global workforce and are often employed in outdoor settings. These workers will likely be disproportionately impacted by the current situation and may not have any support from their employers or labor laws/institutions due to their lack of a formal employer.

The World Health Organization and the International Labor Organization have issued a warning that these fatalities will persistently rise unless collaboration between governments, employers, and worker representatives is established to implement protective measures that safeguard workers from the harmful effects of the sun.