As we head into summer, we become more aware of the sun as the risk for burning skyrockets. While dangerous UV rays are undoubtedly intense this time of year, sun protection isn’t just a summer concern. We encourage everyone to continue to protect themselves and their families from melanoma and skin cancer by using sunscreen, limiting sun exposure during high-intensity times, and always stay weather aware.
Did you know that skin cancer is the most common cancer diagnosis in the United States? About 85% of melanoma cases are caused by damaging ultraviolet radiation from the sun. It’s also largely preventable with good sun awareness and protection.
What is melanoma?
Melanoma is a less common but dangerous form of skin cancer that affects the melanocyte cells. These cells are responsible for producing melanin, which creates tan or brown pigment in your skin and acts as a barrier to help protect your skin from the sun.
While not always, melanoma tends to develop in areas that get a lot of sun exposure, like your legs, arms, back, chest, or face, and manifest as a change to a normal mole or a new pigmented growth on your skin.
It’s essential to stay aware of changes to your skin. Melanoma is known to spread quickly to other organs and can become a severe risk to your health in as little as six weeks.
Skin cancer risk for construction workers
More than 5.4 million Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer each year, with around 100,00 of those melanoma cases. Agricultural and construction workers (ACWs), who spend most of their work-related time outdoors, may be at increased risk for skin cancer because of high levels of UV radiation exposure from the sun according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC.) Our safety director and site superintendents always keep an eye on the news for upcoming storms to protect our workers and stay on schedule in spite of weather delays. But even days that appear mild or pleasant can mean hazardous sun exposure.
Most of us have forgotten sunscreen and later felt the sting of a nasty sunburn. However, it only takes five sunburns to raise your chance of developing melanoma dramatically. It’s important to remember to always apply sunscreen every two hours while working outside.
The best sunscreen to combats harsh UV rays is water-resistant, broad-spectrum with protection against UVA and UVB radiation, and be rated at least SPF 30.
Everyone needs sunscreen in more than just the summer sun. Extended time in the sun, no matter the time of year, can damage your skin. Reflections from shiny surfaces like metal, water, or snow can intensify the UV rays and cause painful sunburns in the dead of winter.
Protective clothing can reduce sun exposure. Long sleeves that are loosely fitting and tightly woven are best for sun protection. Special fabric, rated using the UPF index (ultraviolet protection factor), not only shields workers from harmful rays but reflects or absorbs the harmful radiation, depending on the color and fabric content. Especially when there is limited access to shaded areas utilizing long sleeves, brimmed hats or neck shades will help reduce sun exposure and keep you cool.
When working in the heat, drink between 24-32 ounces of water per hour. Be careful though, because drinking too much water can cause the concentration of salt in the blood to be too low. Avoid drinking energy drinks, coffee, tea or soft drinks when working outside and take frequent water breaks. The best option is to drink a mix of water and electrolytes instead of relying solely on one or the other.
According to Frederick Health, only 80 percent of our water intake comes from drinking water. The other 20 percent comes from food. All whole fruits and vegetables contain some water, but snack on these for maximum benefit: cucumbers, celery, tomatoes, radishes, peppers, cauliflower, watermelon, spinach, strawberries, broccoli, and grapefruit. They all contain 90 percent water or higher.
When possible move to the shade or a cool area to help prevent hazardous sun exposure. The most intense parts of the day are generally, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Keep this in mind when scheduling your day or your teams breaks.
Skin cancer prevention
Outside of sun protection, the best thing you can do to manage melanoma and other skin cancer risks is to stay aware of your skin. Check your body frequently for unusual or suddenly different moles and communicate with your doctor immediately if you find an area of concern.
If you have fair skin, freckles, or a history of melanoma, you are at higher risk of developing skin cancer. While genetic testing for mutations isn’t necessary, it’s best to take extra care while working in the sun and establish a good relationship with a dermatologist who can regularly assist you with skin exams.