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Working in the sun creates large skin cancer risk: WHO-led study

Working in the sun creates large skin cancer risk: WHO-led study

A study by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labor Organization (ILO) found that one-third of non-melanoma skin cancer deaths are due to sun exposure at work.

The study, published in Environment International, revealed that unprotected exposure to solar ultraviolet radiation is a major cause of occupational skin cancer. However, there are effective ways to protect workers from harmful sun rays and prevent its deadly effects.

“But there are effective solutions to protect workers from the sun’s harmful rays and prevent its deadly effects,” encouraged the head of the United Nations health arm.

Research shows that outdoor workers bear a significant and growing burden of non-melanoma skin cancer, which forms on the inside of the epidermis (the outer layer of the skin) or in squamous cells, but not in melanocytes, the skin cells that make pigment.

Outdoor Work: Sun Exposure Risks

According to the study, about 1.6 billion people of working age (15 years and older) worldwide were exposed to solar UV radiation while working outdoors in 2019, equivalent to 28% of all people of working age. That year alone, the sun claimed the lives of nearly 19,000 people from non-melanoma skin cancer in 183 countries who worked outdoors. Men comprised the majority (65%) of these cases.

Estimates establish that occupational exposure to solar ultraviolet radiation is the work-related risk factor with the third highest burden of cancer deaths globally.

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Between 2000 and 2019, skin cancer deaths attributable to occupational exposure to sunlight nearly doubled, increasing 88%, from 10,088 to 18,960.

According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labor Organization (ILO), up to 1.9 million people worldwide die each year from work-related illnesses and injuries. This includes 750,000 deaths attributed to long working hours, which is the leading risk factor.

In 2019, it was found that a significant proportion of the global population was exposed to harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation due to outdoor work. The exposure was higher in Africa (33% of the population) and Southeast Asia (32%), and lower in Europe (18%). Over time, most regions have seen a decline in exposure.

The study also highlighted that several countries in the Latin American region, including Central America, the Caribbean, Ecuador, Peru, and Suriname, had a high proportion of the working population exposed to UV radiation.

WHO Urges Protection from Sun

Following this research, the WHO calls for more measures to be taken to protect workers from the dangers of working outdoors in sunlight.

The report from the ILO and WHO states that from an early age, workers must receive protection against ultraviolet solar radiation at work, considering that exposure over years or even decades can lead to the development of skin cancer.

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It states that governments “should establish, apply and enforce policies and regulations that protect outdoor workers from sun-induced skin cancer.”

Recommended measures include providing shade, changing work hours so that they do not coincide with the middle hours of the day, providing education and training, and equipping workers with sunscreen and protective clothing, such as a wide-brimmed hat, shirts. long sleeves and long pants.

For Gilbert Houngbo, Director General of the ILO, “it is urgent that governments, employers and workers and their representatives work together within a framework of well-defined rights, responsibilities and duties to reduce the occupational risk of exposure to ultraviolet rays”.

“A safe and healthy work environment is a fundamental right at work. It can save thousands of lives every year,” she concluded.

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