Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer diagnosed in Northern Ireland, with around 3,550 cases every year. Today the Public Health Agency (PHA) and Cancer Focus Northern Ireland launched a new sun safety initiative to help people who work outdoors protect themselves from skin damage due to sun exposure.
Dr Miriam McCarthy, Consultant in Public Health at the PHA, explained: “Everyone is at risk of sun damage, but certain groups such as people who spend a significant amount of time working outdoors are particularly at risk. “Over a number of months we have been working with outdoor workers to develop arrangements that will help promote sun safety. Local employers and representatives have been really enthusiastic on this matter and have worked with us in developing a range of materials to raise the awareness of sun exposure.”
Farmers, builders, grounds staff and postal workers are just some of the people at higher risk of sun damage due to the length of time they spend working outdoors.
Ian Young, Health, Safety & Well-being Officer, Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council, said: “We have signed up to using the new policy and resources as we want to protect the health of our employees and skin cancer is a real concern to our employees who work outside.
“This new initiative will improve knowledge and awareness of sun safety issues in the outdoor work sector considerably. Everyone who works outdoors needs to think about sun protection, even on cooler, breezy days.”
Gerry McElwee, Head of Cancer Prevention at Cancer Focus Northern Ireland, said: “We are delighted to be able to launch this new initiative which takes the form of a sun safety resource pack for employers and employees and provides guidance on skin cancer prevention and early detection.”
There are a number of steps that will protect against the sun’s harmful rays when working outdoors:
• Wear a long-sleeved top, sunglasses and a hat with a brim or flap that protects the ears and neck.
• On exposed skin use sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 15 for UVB protection, and 4 star for UVA protection. Extra care and a higher SPF factor may be needed if you have paler or freckled skin. Apply liberally 30 minutes before going out in the sun and re-apply at least every two hours.
• Be sure to cover areas which are sometimes missed, such as the lips, ears, around the eyes, neck, scalp and backs of hands.
• Where possible take your breaks in the shade especially when the sun is at its strongest – generally 11am to 3pm.
The damage caused by the sun can accumulate over time and may lead to skin cancer, so it is important to check your skin regularly for any unusual moles or spots. If you notice any changes to a mole or patch of normal skin, tell your doctor, who may refer you for further assessment or treatment.
Speaking at the event today. Minister Simon Hamilton added: “Skin cancer is an increasingly serious, and largely preventative, public health issue. DHSSPS published a ten-year Skin Cancer Prevention Strategy and Action Plan in 2011. The strategy is relevant to the population as a whole, but also identifies outdoor workers as a priority group requiring particular action.
“Today’s launch is another important step towards achieving the goal of reducing the incidence of skin cancer, and deaths from it, among people in Northern Ireland.”