The Sun: A Construction Site Hazard for Outdoor Workers
Construction laborers, who often work out-of-doors, are at a high risk for skin cancer.
Sun is the primary cause of skin cancer, and that means that construction laborers, who work outside most of the time, are at high risk for this disease. However, because their risk of accidental death and injury on the job is not only higher, but also more immediate, the dangers of skin cancer in this industry have often been neglected.
But no longer. In response to concerns raised by a local union the Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund of North America (LHSFNA) has succeeded in motivating members of the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) to protect themselves against this common and potentially deadly disease.
Construction work is dangerous. It has the third highest death rate from injuries of all American industries. Within construction, the death rate for laborers is more than three times the average for the entire industry. It is hardly surprising that laborers do not always see the risk of skin cancer as a top priority. However, in 1995, the Conference to Develop a National Skin Cancer Agenda specifically identified outdoor workers as a high-risk group worthy of targeting. They experience twice the number of non-melanoma skin cancers (basal cell carcinomasand squamous cell carcinomas) as indoor workers.
LHSFNA, a labor-management fund, was created in 1988 to foster better health behaviors among laborers and their families, and to reduce workplace injury and illness. Taking note of the number of skin cancers among laborers, the LHSFNA developed a skin cancer awareness program that focuses on incidence, causes, and risk factors as well as detection, prevention and treatment. The issue of skin cancer is also raised in tool-box talks – brief jobsite meetings – and safety meetings.
Several years ago, the Fund began providing cloth flaps that can be secured to a cap or a hardhat to protect the back of the neck. The Fund distributes 10,000 of them a year. “The men are not ‘lotion-oriented’and will not take the trouble to buy bottles of sunscreen at the store,” reported one LHSFNA staffer. A small, unscientific survey of laborers found that only 10 percent used sunscreen on a regular basis, significantly lower than the national average.