Skin Cancer: A Hazard for Construction Workers

Members of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades face different hazards on the job, but one they may not think about is the ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. Repeated exposure to UV radiation can permanently damage skin and cause skin cancer. Since many IUPAT members spend all or a portion of their day working outside, you should take steps to protect your skin before you start work.

Cases of skin cancer are on the rise and it is now the most common type of cancer. There are three main types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma – the deadliest. Millions of cases of basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma and thousands of cases of melanoma are diagnosed each year. It is estimated that this year, there will be more than 90,000 new cases of melanoma in the U.S. and 9,000 deaths.[1] Construction workers will account for many of these cases.[2]  While more women develop melanoma than men before age 50, by age 65 the risk for men increases.  Rates in men over 65 are double those of women, and by age 80 they are triple.1   Melanoma doesn’t just affect middle-aged and older people. It is now one of the most common forms of cancer in people younger than 30.[3] While melanoma is the deadliest, all types of skin cancer are serious and can lead to lasting, sometimes disfiguring scars.

A common misconception about skin cancer is that people with darker skin tones are not at risk. Although they may have a lower risk than people with fairer skin, they can still get skin cancer. In fact, skin cancer often goes unnoticed until later stages in these individuals, when it is more dangerous.[4]

Fortunately, skin cancer can be prevented by following a few simple steps:

Wear Sunscreen

  • Use a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. A broad-spectrum sunscreen protects against UVA and UVB radiation.
  • Reapply sunscreen every two hours, or after excessive sweating.
  • Water, snow, sand, concrete, and metal reflect and intensify UV radiation, and increase your chance of getting sunburned.
  • Wear sunscreen even when it’s cloudy out. Harmful UV radiation can pass through clouds.

Cover Up

  • Wear tightly-woven and loose-fitting long-sleeved shirts and pants.
  • Protect the back of your neck with a cloth flap designed to attach to your hard hat.
  • Ask your employer for safety glasses that also provide protection against UVA and UVB radiation. They can be clear. The lens color has nothing to do with UV protection.

Seek Shade

  • Stay in the shade as much as possible and when taking breaks. The sun is strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • If possible, build temporary shade structures in areas where you are working.
  • If possible, complete outdoor tasks earlier or later in the day to reduce sun exposure.

Perform a Self-Examination

Examine your body from head-to-toe every month. Skin cancer that is detected early is easier to treat and more likely to be cured. Look for these warning signs:

  • A new or existing mole that has an irregular border (ragged, notched, or blurred edges)
  • A new or existing mole that is not symmetrical (one half doesn’t match the other), or whose color is not the same throughout
  • Moles that are bigger than a pencil eraser
  • Itchy or painful moles
  • A bump, patch, sore, or growth that bleeds, oozes, or crusts and doesn’t heal

[1]American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts and Figures 2018

[2]Rushton, L. & Hutchings, S. (2017). The burden of occupationally-related cutaneous malignant melanoma in Britain due to solar radiation. Br J Cancer 116: 536–539. doi:10.1038/bjc.2016.437

[3]American Cancer Society. Cancers That Develop in Young Adults.

[4]The Skin Cancer Foundation. Dark Skin Tones and Skin Cancer: What You Need to Know.