Working in the sun raises cancer risk, UN agencies warn

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UN data reveals that millions of workers in the sun fuel global skin cancer cases

NEW YORK, Nov 9, (Agencies): New data from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) sheds light on the alarming link between occupational exposure to the sun and the rise of skin cancer cases worldwide. The findings reveal that almost one-third of deaths from non-melanoma skin cancer are attributed to workers exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. Published in the journal Environmental International, the data positions occupational UV radiation exposure as the third-largest occupational carcinogen globally, following asbestos and silica dust.

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, emphasized the substantial impact of unprotected exposure to solar UV radiation at work, calling it a major cause of occupational skin cancer. The report highlights effective solutions to shield workers from the harmful effects of the sun’s rays.

Recognizing solar radiation as a Group 1 carcinogen, the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer underscores the urgency of establishing a safe and healthy working environment as a fundamental right at work. ILO Director-General Gilbert Houngbo emphasizes the preventability of deaths resulting from unprotected exposure to solar UV radiation through cost-effective measures, urging collaborative efforts among governments, employers, and workers.

The study, published after seven years of data collection and assessment, examined workplace exposure to solar radiation and non-melanoma skin cancer cases across nearly 200 countries. In 2019, 1.6 billion workers, constituting almost 30% of the working-age population, were exposed to UV radiation while at work. Industries such as agriculture, construction, and fishing saw frequent occurrences of exposure, with a 32% decrease in the overall number of people exposed from 2000 to 2019.

Despite the decrease in exposure, skin cancer deaths linked to occupational solar radiation surged by about 90% during the same period. The report attributes 18,960 deaths from non-melanoma skin cancer in 2019 to workplace UV radiation exposure. Vulnerable groups, including workers without employers collecting recycling materials or working in outdoor markets, face heightened risks. Additionally, individuals working around reflective surfaces, such as fishermen surrounded by water, are at an increased risk of skin cancer.

Previous WHO estimates underscore the 60% increased odds of developing non-melanoma skin cancer due to occupational exposure to UV radiation. The study emphasizes the critical need for comprehensive measures and collaborative strategies to mitigate the occupational risk of UV exposure, potentially saving thousands of lives annually.

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