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24 June 2015

Occupational exposure to sun claims nearly 50 lives every year in Great Britain

A study by Imperial College London suggests that 2% of all cases of melanoma – the most dangerous form of skin cancer – in Britain can be attributed to occupational exposure to solar radiation, giving in a single typical year 46 deaths and 239 new cases.

The construction sector accounts for a large number of these cases, with 44% of the deaths and 42% of the registrations. Other sectors of concern include agriculture, public administration, defence, and land transport.

Men are more likely than women to be affected. Out of the 46 deaths from malignant melanoma caused by work-related exposure, 39 were men. Men account for 184 of the 239 new melanoma registrations.

Another study, carried out by the University of Nottingham, investigated workers' attitudes to sun exposure at the workplace. Researchers found that two-thirds of construction workers working outside for an average of nearly seven hours a day thought that they were not at risk or were unsure about the risks. 59% reported having sunburn at least once in the last year. The study also highlights a "macho culture" in parts of the industry and misconceptions about the risk in the UK climate.

The two studies were commissioned by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) in the framework of its campaign No Time to Lose, aimed at raising awareness of occupational cancers.

Solar radiation has been classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as a definite human carcinogen for cutaneous malignant melanoma. Despite this, solar radiation is still excluded from the scope of the EU directive on workers' exposure to the risks arising from physical agents.

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