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Australians know the dangers of skin cancers all too well. It accounts for around 80% of new cancers diagnosed each year. Unsurprisingly, skin cancers are a significant contributor to occupational diseases, with outdoor Aussie workers increasingly at risk.

Skin cancers

Skin cancer occurs when there is irregular growth on the skin, and the majority is caused by sun exposure.

The three main types of skin cancer are:

  • Basal cell carcinoma
    Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer and develops from basal cells found in the deepest part of the outer layer of the skin (the epidermis). 

  • Squamous cell
    Squamous cell is the second most common type of skin cancer and develops in the squamous cells which make up the middle and outer layers of the skin.

  • Melanoma
    Melanoma is the least common type of skin cancer; however, it is considered to be the most serious as it can spread to other parts of the body if left untreated. Melanoma grows from cells called melanocytes, the cells that give your skin pigment.

Common causes of skin cancers

Sun exposure

Sun exposure is a significant risk factor for skin cancer due to the ultraviolet (UV) radiation it emits. The International Agency for Cancer Research (IARC) classified UV radiation as a Group 1 carcinogen in 1992.

Outdoor workers face a heightened risk, receiving up to ten times the UV radiation dosage compared to indoor workers. Occupations such as farming, painting, plumbing, driving and horticulture are among those most exposed to UV radiation. 

Occupational artificial ultraviolet radiation

Aside from natural sources, workers can be exposed to artificial sources of ultraviolet radiation, such as applications used in dental medicine and electric arc welders.

The IARC classified welding-related ultraviolet radiation as carcinogenic to humans in 2017 based on sufficient evidence that exposure can cause ocular melanoma.

To mitigate this risk, welders should use respiratory protection, full-face welding helmets, UV-filtered lenses and appropriate protective clothing.

Chemical exposures

Certain chemicals including mineral oils, arsenic, shale oils and x-ray and Gamma radiation have been classified by the IARC as a carcinogen sufficient to cause malignant non-melanomas. 

Employer responsibilities

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004, employers have an obligation to maintain a safe working environment that minimises health risks, so far as reasonably practical. However, studies indicate that many workers lack adequate protection.

According to the Australian Work Exposure Study, 86% of construction workers were exposed to UV radiation. Alarmingly only 8% percent of workers who spent four or more hours a day outside were using appropriate sun protection controls such as sunscreen, a hat, protective clothing and shade.

The study also found that 99% of agricultural workers were exposed to UV radiation but only 10% were considered to be adequately protected.

This puts hardworking outdoor workers at an increased risk of developing skin cancer.

Protecting Aussie workers

Safe Work Australia recommends several measures to safeguard workers from direct and indirect UV radiation. These include the provision of shaded areas, window tinting and glass, personal protective equipment (such as hats, sunglasses and clothing), sunscreen, changes to work schedules, and training to raise awareness of sun protection measures. Workers exposed to UV radiation should also undergo regular skin checks to detect and treat potential issues early.

What should you do if you have been diagnosed with skin cancer?

If you have been diagnosed with skin cancer you should seek advice from a qualified medical professional. Informing them about any exposure to UV radiation or known carcinogenic chemicals can assist with the diagnosis and treatment of your condition.

It is also important to seek legal advice as soon as possible if you suspect your condition has been related to your work, particularly as there may be time limitations for making a claim for compensation.

For an obligation-free discussion, get in touch to discuss your potential options with our experienced and friendly team.

Learn more about our work in workplace disease compensation

Our dedicated workplace disease lawyers have significant experience in helping clients get compensation for occupational diseases caused by asbestos, silicadust exposure and more. Contact us today and find out how we can help you.

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