Research Reveals Risk of a Roofer’s Summer Tan Onsite

ROOFERS’ desire for a summer sun tan could be putting them at heightened risk of developing skin cancer, according to new research.

The study, led by researchers from Heriot-Watt University and the Institute of Occupational Medicine in Edinburgh, measured UV exposure amongst construction workers in the UK.

The research, funded by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), measured the UV radiation exposure of individual workers using wearable electronic sensors. It found that during the summer many workers expose themselves to UV radiation deliberately, increasing their risk of developing non-melanoma skin cancer.

Professor John Cherrie, Principal Investigator on the research from Heriot-Watt University, said: “Every year there are more than 3,000 cases of skin cancer caused by outdoor work in construction and other industries. Our desire for a tan is stopping us from taking proper care to protect our skin from the damaging effects of the UV radiation in sunlight.”

To tackle this, researchers investigated whether short messages delivered to the smartphones of construction workers, and appropriate organisational support, could keep workers safe and healthy onsite. The messages aim to influence workers to reduce UV exposure in summer.

Researchers also examined the concentration of vitamin D in blood samples taken from outdoor workers. Results showed that almost half of outdoor workers on construction sites had insufficient vitamin D during the winter.

Smartphone messages reminding workers to increase their intake of vitamin D in winter, when sun exposure alone cannot maintain healthy levels, were found to be effective.

Mary Ogungbeje, OSH research manager at the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health, said: “We didn’t know how effective the use of everyday technology can be in encouraging safe, healthy attitudes and behaviour among outdoor workers. The findings are promising, but highlight that there’s some work to do as both workers and employers have a part to play in reducing the risks of excessive UV exposure.

“We encourage workers and employers to be more aware of occupational cancer and take positive steps to reduce the risks. Our No Time to Lose resources on solar radiation have been produced with them in mind.”

The study
Nine sites throughout Central Scotland and Greater London were included in the study.

Recruitment was for three waves of data collection – two low UV exposure periods during the winter and one high UV exposure period during the summer, with each study period lasting 21 days. During the high UV period participants were issued with a UV wearable sensor mounted on the rear of their hard hat. These sensors logged UV measurements throughout a working day.

The outcome
During the winter study periods vitamin D levels in the group receiving the short message intervention were significantly higher: from 48% with sufficient levels to 88% in the first winter period and from 52% to 70% in the second. This suggests daily information and availability of a dietary supplement is likely to increase vitamin D levels during periods when UV is too low to be synthesised naturally.

Researchers tested participants Standard Erythemal Dose (SED) as a means to calculate exposure to sun. The higher the SED, the more risk the worker carries of contracting non-melanoma skin cancer.

Results found that workers who predominantly worked outdoors were exposed to an average 2 SED and those who worked partly indoors and partly outdoors were exposed to 0.69 SED. In the outdoor workers around 40% of the daily exposures exceeded 2 SED while about 12% of the exposures for the indoor workers were above 2 SED.

The short messages during the summer wave did not influence workers to take protective measures, which the researchers attributed to the widespread misconception that it is healthy to have a sun tan.

The report, ‘Nudging construction workers towards safer behaviour’, is available here.

IOSH No Time to Lose resources focusing on solar radiation are available here.

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