Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. It can be serious, expensive and life threatening.

Nearly 5 million people are treated for skin cancer each year in the U.S., costing an estimated $8.1 billion. Skin cancer has a serious impact in the workplace as well. 

Every year, Americans lose more than $100 million in productivity because of restricted activity or absence from work due to skin cancer.

How skin problems may develop at work

The type of environment you are in can cause skin problems directly or they can work with other factors to increase skin problems. These factors include:

  • Heat—causes sweating. Sweating may dissolve chemicals and bring them into closer contact with the skin. Heat increases the blood flow at the skin surface and may increase the absorption of substances into the body.
  • Cold—dries the skin and causes microscopic cracking. This cracking allows substances to cross the outer layer of the skin, thus entering the body.
  • Sun—burns and damages the skin. Sun can increase absorption of chemicals. Sun reacts with some chemicals to enhance their negative effects on the body.

Fortunately, most skin cancers can be prevented. There are some simple steps that you can take to help your employees minimize their risk year-round and detect potential skin cancer early.

1. Protect your employees who work outdoors

Outdoor workers often spend a lot of time in the sun, putting them at greater risk for skin cancer. The Federal Occupational Safety and Health Act requires employers to minimize risk of harm to employees, and in some states, employers may be required to provide workers’ compensation to employees who get skin cancer because of sun exposure on the job.

If you have employees who work outdoors, be sure to provide plenty of education about the importance of sunblock—including on tops of ears, backs of necks and exposed skin on top of head—and protective clothing. And remember, sun protection isn’t just for summer. UV rays from the sun can still cause skin damage in the winter months, especially at higher altitudes or on reflective surfaces like snow or ice.

Take whatever steps you can to minimize sun exposure on the job for employees, including:

  • Providing sunblock at the work site
  • Increasing the amount of shade available, with tents, shelters, and cooling stations
  • Covering or minimizing shiny or bright-colored surfaces (like concrete, metal, or snow), which can increase sun exposure
  • Allowing workers time to reapply sunscreen throughout their shifts

2. Encourage your employees to get regular skin screenings and checkups

During a skin cancer screening, a primary care doctor or a dermatologist will do a visual check to help find skin that could be cancer or turn into it eventually.

One of the most convenient ways for your employees to see a dermatologist is with telehealth.

3. Make skin safety part of your company culture

There are plenty of easy and creative ways you can make skin cancer awareness part of everyday life at your company. For starters, be sure to include skin safety information in any workplace wellness programs you offer. Encourage your employees to do skin self-exams, which are a good way to detect early skin changes that may mean melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer.

Consider providing sunblock in employee bathrooms, kitchens or break rooms, and hand out branded sun-defense promo items at your next employee or community event. Customized caps, sunglasses, SPF lip balm or sunblock featuring your organization’s name and logo promote your company while also promoting good skin health—an easy win-win.

Spencer-SHE has been providing Safety, Health, and Environmental Compliance Guidance since 1980. Knowing individual risk factors can help workers prepare to take steps to minimize exposure to UV rays. It never hurts to start the conversation to reduce your risk.

Contact us here to help you to develop and maintain a safe and healthy workforce.