Outdoor Workers Face An Outsized Risk of Skin Cancer

Two men in blue sweatshirts bend over picking strawberries.

When you think about lifestyles that increase the risk of skin cancer, what do you see? Surfers? Runners? The mailman?

Those roles certainly offer plenty of exposure to the sun, but a recent article highlights how farmers and those in the agricultural industry have an outsized risk of melanoma and other skin-related types of cancer.

Farmers and anyone who performs the majority of their work outdoors can be exposed to two or three times more UV radiation than a person working the same amount of time inside. As many risks as the sedentary lifestyle of a desk-bound worker might face as a result of limited physical exercise, outdoor and active workers face the challenges of extreme temperatures and hour after hour of UV exposure.

That exposure might be more readily apparent when the temperatures are soaring mid-summer, but researchers note the exposure goes beyond sunny days. 90% of UV rays can penetrate cloud cover, which means outdoor workers should always wear sunscreen and reduce the amount of exposed skin as much as possible.

The study comes from Healthy Ireland, where the country faces over 13,000 skin cancer cases annually, the most common cancer type in the nation. That number of diagnoses doubled in the past ten years and is expected to double again by 2045.

Skin cancer amongst outdoor workers has become such a problem that Healthy Ireland and the nation’s agricultural leaders have started a program called “Sunsmart”, designed to educate farmers and outdoor workers about the risks of skin cancer and ways to reduce the number of UV rays they are exposed to.

In the US, roughly 5 million people are treated for skin cancer per year, with agricultural and construction workers facing the same elevated risks. According to the CDC, one study found that just 15.1 to 21.4% of these outdoor workers used shade-seeking or sunscreen lotion regularly. The study goes on to note that most skin cancer prevention programs are directed to children, adolescents, and young adults.

We need to incentivize employees and workers to insist on higher rates of skin protection and skin cancer prevention measures on the job site. Just as we protect workers from harmful chemicals and radiation indoors, we should work to mandate the same protections and education for workers exposed to long days in the sun.

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Cody Sovis

Cody Sovis

Low-level marketing guy with a cycling habit. Advocate for cancer prevention, active lifestyles, equality, and breakfast cookies.