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WHO report: Working outdoors under the sun causes nonmelanoma skin cancer

About one-third of deaths resulting from nonmelanoma skin cancer are linked to outdoor work under the sun, warned a joint report by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO). Nonmelanoma skin cancer comprises cancers developing in the upper layers of the skin, with basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma being the main subtypes. The report, released on November 8, emphasized the significant challenge posed by unprotected exposure to solar ultraviolet radiation during outdoor work.

In 2019, an estimated 28% of the global working-age population, approximately 1.6 billion individuals aged 15 or older, were exposed to solar ultraviolet radiation while working outdoors. The report revealed that almost 19,000 people from 183 countries succumbed to nonmelanoma skin cancer in 2019, with about 65% of these fatalities being males.

The report underscored the urgent need for measures to prevent these deaths and called on governments and employers to take effective actions. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus emphasized that unprotected exposure to solar ultraviolet radiation at work is a significant cause of occupational skin cancer. He highlighted the availability of effective solutions to protect workers from harmful rays.

ILO Director-General Gilbert Houngbo emphasized that the deaths could largely be prevented through proper and cost-effective methods. Urging collaboration among governments, employers, and workers, he stressed the need to reduce the occupational risk of UV exposure to save thousands of lives annually.

This exposure is identified as the third-highest work-related risk factor for cancer deaths globally. Between 2000 and 2019, deaths attributed to skin cancer from workplace sun exposure nearly doubled, increasing by 88%, from 10,088 deaths in 2000 to 18,960 deaths in 2019.

The joint report proposes robust measures to protect outdoor workers, including providing shade, adjusting working hours away from the solar noon period, education and training, and equipping workers with sunscreen and personal protective clothing. Special caution is recommended when the ultraviolet index reaches level three or higher, indicating increased sun-damaging ultraviolet radiation.


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