Builders, farmers and outdoor workers urged to be SunSmart due to their high risk of skin cancer

Healthy Ireland, HSE, and the Construction Industry Federation are joining forces to urge outdoor workers to follow the 5S’s of skin protection.

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in Ireland with over 11,000 cases diagnosed annually, and it is predicted that this number will more than double by the year 2045.  Thankfully, most cases of skin cancer can be prevented by protecting skin from ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or artificial sources. 

Outdoor workers are particularly vulnerable to developing skin cancer. Due to spending long periods of time outdoors, they are exposed to high levels of UV rays from the sun – even on a cloudy day. The National Skin Cancer Prevention Plan identifies outdoor workers as a high-risk group for skin cancer.

Recent CSO figures* suggest that up to one-in-four skin cancer deaths in Ireland are among workers in the construction, outdoor and farming sectors.

To help protect outdoor workers, the Construction Industry Federation (CIF) have joined with Healthy Ireland and the HSE’s National Cancer Control Programme to raise awareness of the risks associated with exposure of unprotected skin to the sun, and the simple key behaviours that protect outdoor workers.

Dermot Carey, Director, Safety & Training, CIF said: “Whilst Covid-19 remains to the forefront of our thinking about wellbeing, we must not lose sight of other hazards in the workplace, not least the potential for skin cancer. Persons working outdoors need to be aware of these hazards, the associated risk, and the precautionary measures they should take to protect their skin, from Spring through Autumn.

“We all need to monitor the UV index throughout the day, to cover-up exposed skin and to apply sunscreen lotion accordingly. It has been shown that those who work in agriculture and construction are highly prone to skin cancer, and therefore the Construction Industry Federation is delighted to support the Skin Cancer Prevention Plan and is calling on its members to do likewise by running toolbox talks on the impact of the sun’s UV rays and protection methods that can be easily adopted.”

Supporting and following the 5S’s of the SunSmart code means outdoor workers and their employers can protect against UV exposure and reduce the risk of developing skin cancer.

The Healthy Ireland SunSmart Code

  1. Slip on clothing that covers your skin such as, long sleeves, collared t-shirts; 
  2. Slop on sunscreen: Use sunscreen SPF minimum 30 or higher. Apply 20 minutes before going outside and re-apply every two hours – more often if perspiring.
  3. Slap on a wide brimmed hat
  4. Seek Shade – especially if outdoors between 11am to 3pm when UV rays are at their strongest. If possible schedule outdoor work before 11am or after 3pm.
  5. Slide on wraparound sunglasses

Dr Triona McCarthy, Director of Public Health at the HSE National Cancer Control Programme said: “We know those who work outdoors are a high risk group for the development of skin cancer. Due to the nature of their work they can be exposed to high amounts of UV radiation from the sun, especially from April to September. However, we have seen in Australia how simple steps can protect outdoor worker’s skin - slipping on clothing that covers skin, slapping on a wide brimmed hat and slipping on wraparound sunglasses reduces the skin’s exposure to the sun’s UV rays. Use sunscreen on exposed areas and around the middle of the day, plan to work or take breaks in the shade where possible. Whether you work in farming, construction, fishery, gardening, postal, defence forces, tourism or any other job outdoors, protect your skin from UV rays to reduce your risk of skin cancer.”


Interview opportunities:

Please contact the HSE National Press Office to arrange an interview with a spokesperson  Out Of Hours 087 227 4605.


Notes to Editors:

*Based on CSO data for 2016-2018(provisional) on deaths due to melanoma among those employed or previously employed in the construction farming and other outdoor sectors.

**The National Skin Cancer Prevention Plan aims to increase awareness of how to enjoy the sun safely, supporting people in simple ways to protect their skin to reduce risk of skin cancer. It was developed by the Department of Health in conjunction with the National Cancer Control Programme (NCCP) and key stakeholders including other Government Departments and national organisations representing priority groups, including the Irish Cancer Society, Marie Keating Foundation, the Irish Skin Foundation and Breakthrough Cancer Research.

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Last updated on: 06 / 07 / 2020