Geneva, Nov 10 : Working under the sun is leading to nearly 1 in 3 deaths from non-melanoma skin cancer, according to joint estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO).
The research released in the journal Environment International finds that outdoor workers carry a large and increasing burden of non-melanoma skin cancer and calls for action to prevent this serious workplace hazard and the loss of workers’ lives it causes.
According to the joint estimates, 1.6 billion people of working age (15 years or older) were exposed to solar ultraviolet radiation while working outdoors in 2019, equivalent to 28 per cent of all working-age people.
In the same year, almost 18,960 people in 183 countries died from non-melanoma skin cancer due to having worked outdoors in the sun. The number increased by 88 per cent — from 10,088 deaths in 2000.
The estimates establish occupational exposure to solar ultraviolet radiation as the third highest attributable burden of cancer deaths globally, behind only asbestos and silica dust.
“Unprotected exposure to solar ultraviolet radiation at work is a major cause of occupational skin cancer,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, in a statement.
“But there are effective solutions to protect workers from the sun’s harmful rays, and prevent their deadly effects,” he added.
The WHO called for more action to protect workers from hazardous outdoor work in the sunlight. As skin cancer develops after years or even decades of exposure, workers must be protected from solar ultraviolet radiation at work from young working age onwards.
Governments should establish, implement and enforce policies and regulations that protect outdoor workers from sun-induced skin cancer by providing shade, shifting working hours away from the solar noon, providing education and training, and equipping workers with sunscreen and personal protective clothing (such as broad-brimmed hat, long-sleeved shirts and long trousers), the UN health body said.
“A safe and healthy working environment is a fundamental right at work,” said Gilbert F. Houngbo, ILO Director-General, in the statement.
“Death caused by unprotected exposure to solar ultraviolet radiation while working is largely preventable through cost-effective measures. It is urgent that governments, employers and workers and their representatives work together in a framework of well-defined rights, responsibilities and duties to reduce the occupational risk of UV exposure. This can save thousands of lives every year,” Houngbo added.