Protecting construction workers from ultra violet radiation

28 August 2019

Protecting construction workers from ultra violet radiationExposure to ultra violet (UV) radiation at work is causing skin cancer. And claims are on the increase. In our latest edition of Building Sight, we look at the increasing focus on wellbeing from a construction perspective such as how it could impact on the built environments we create, how technology is improving occupational health and the risk of psychological injury due to stress.

Skin cancer caused by UV radiation is the fastest-growing occupational malignancy, according to occupational skin disease specialist Professor Swen Malte John from the University of Osnabrück.

This fact is evidenced in the few countries that recognize such cancer as an occupational disease, says John, writing in The British Medical Journal (The BMJ).

For instance, after recognition in Germany in 2015, 8,000 cases of cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma or multiple actinic keratoses have been notified each year.

More than 14.5 million workers across the EU are regularly working outdoors and need targeted protection, estimates the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work.

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In Australia, one of the few countries to recognize occupational skin cancer, construction workers are estimated to receive up to 10 times more UV exposure than indoor workers; 200 melanomas and 34,000 basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma skin cancers are diagnosed each year in the country due to UV exposure in the workplace, according to Cancer Council Australia.

Even in the UK, a recent study by Heriot-Watt University and the Institute of Occupational Medicine put the annual number of skin cancer cases caused by outdoor construction work at 3,000.

The level of exposure means that claims are gradually increasing.

In Australia, a total of 1,970 workers’ compensation claims for sun-related injury or disease were made between 2000 and 2012, at a total cost of A$63 million in compensation.

To this end, contractors should consider developing a UV protection policy or written guidelines documenting risk control measures.

They should also ensure workers are made aware of the dangers and given shade and personal protective equipment such as hats, sunglasses, and sunscreen when conditions call for it.

As for changing the attitudes of workers toward sun protection, education may be the best route.

A 2012 study of 120 construction workers by the University of Loughborough found that nine out of ten people showed a positive change in behavior, having viewed a video that explained the dangers of UV radiation and how to check skin for moles or unusual changes.

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  • Richard GurneyRichard Gurney

    Richard is the Global Head of the Construction Practice at Marsh JLT Specialty.

    Richard joined Marsh in April 2019 following the acquisition of JLT where he had worked since 2002. Formerly Global Head of Construction at JLT Specialty and also Head of Claims, Richard has worked in the London insurance market for 29 years. He accumulated extensive experience working with many of the group’s major Construction clients and on some of the world’s largest projects. 

    Past responsibilities also include being a non-executive director on the board of JLT India and overall responsibility for the wholly owned JLT claims consultancy, Echelon.

    If you would like to talk about any of the issues raised in this article, please contact Richard Gurney, Global head of construction on +44 (0)203 394 0387.

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