Sun safety for builders

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in Northern Ireland. Around 3,330 people develop skin cancer each year, accounting for 28 per cent of all cancers diagnosed.

Keep your top on

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in Northern Ireland. Around 3,330 people develop skin cancer each year, accounting for 28 per cent of all cancers diagnosed.

According to Cancer Research UK outdoor workers may get up to 90 per cent more exposure to harmful solar radiation than indoor workers.

This exposure can lead to life-threatening skin cancer and recent research published by IOSH shows that up to 50 UK workers a year die from malignant melanoma skin cancer.

Skin cancer – the warning signs

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the world, but it’s also the most easily avoidable. Look out for the following warning signs of developing skin cancer and take action immediately.

  • the first warning sign is often a small scabby spot which does not clear after a few weeks
  • changed or newly formed moles or any skin discolouration - pay particular attention to any growths which appear on the face, especially around your nose and eyes, or on the backs of your hands
  • show your doctor any moles which change in size, colour, shape or if they start to bleed
  • consult your doctor if you notice any of these signs and explain that you have an outdoor job
  • most of the signs will probably be harmless, but if you think something might be wrong, get it looked at quickly

It’s also a good idea that when you have any kind of medical check-up, tell your doctor that you work outdoors and ask if there are any suspicious signs on your skin.

Protect yourself – the dos and the don’ts

Be very careful while you are working outside over the summer, especially in the three or four hours around midday.

The sun is most intense at these times and even on cloudy days, harmful UV can filter through.


  • do try to avoid the mild reddening which is a sign of skin damage as well as being an early sign of burning
  • do try to work and take your breaks in the shade if you can - this will reduce your risk of harming your skin and also help to keep you cool
  • do continue to take care when you go on holiday - your skin remembers every exposure


  • don’t be complacent, so get to know your skin’s most vulnerable areas like the back of your neck or head - and keep them covered
  • don’t try to get a tan - it might look good but it indicates that your skin has already been damaged

Cover up

If you are working outdoors, keep your shirt or top on, especially if you are working around midday. Don’t be tempted to leave it off, even if your skin tans easily and does not burn. The following steps will help.

  • ordinary clothing made from close-woven fabric, such as a long-sleeved work shirt and jeans, will stop most of the UV
  • a wide-brimmed hat will shade your face and head, the areas which suffer most from sunlight
  • a safety helmet will provide some shade for the head and a hanging flap can protect the back of your neck


Hats and other clothing are the best form of protection, but sunscreen creams and lotions can add useful protection for parts of your body that are not easy to shade from the sun.

  • look for a sun protection factor (SPF) rating of 15 or more as it protects against UVA and UVB
  • read the supplier’s instructions on how it should be applied and don’t forget to cover the backs of your hands
  • remember, a suntan does not eliminate the long-term cancer risk associated with prolonged exposure to the sun

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