El Nino alert heats up skin cancer concern

Paul Eyers
By Paul Eyers
4 Min Read

Aussie tradies are being urged to put “hard yakka” into their sun protection this year as the nation braces for a predicted hot summer.

The Bureau of Meteorology has declared Australia is heading towards a summer of intense heatwaves, wildfires and droughts as an El Nino weather pattern impacts Australia’s east coast.

That extra heat could lead construction workers to spend more time outside this year despite a quarter admitting to rarely wearing sun protection on the job.

And with tradies ordinarily having up to ten times the UV exposure of indoor workers, Cancer Council Australia has warned that 2023 is no time to slack off on sun protection.

“Many Australian tradespeople aren’t protecting themselves from the sun despite being at an even higher risk of developing skin cancer,” Professor Anne Cust, Chair of the Cancer Council’s National Committee, told Build-it.

“When it comes to safety on site, we know tradespeople have high standards, however, research shows many aren’t entirely concerned with sun safety as a part of their daily routines.”

Despite two-thirds of tradies admitting they are worried about getting skin cancer and 60 per cent knowing a colleague who had the disease, Professor Cust said there was still overtime needed to convince the construction industry to take sun safety more seriously.

“The best way to prevent skin cancer is to protect yourself from the sun every day, even when it’s cloudy and overcast,” she said.

Aussie Tradies Sun Stats provided by YouGov

  • 46% of tradies said they rarely wear sunscreen during the winter months.
  • 50% of tradies said they rarely wear sunscreen on cloudy days.
  • 16% of tradies who use sunscreen said they never reapply
  • 22% of tradies don’t believe sunscreen is necessary every day.
  • 50% of tradies who don’t use sunscreen said the reason is forgetfulness.
  • 22% said they don’t believe it’s necessary every day.
  • 21% said sunscreen is too greasy for them to wear.
  • 18% said sunscreen is an inconvenience to wear.
  • 27% of tradies said their employer doesn’t encourage sun safety.

Federal Minister for Health Mark Butler told Build-it that Australia was now synonymous with the disease, despite its preventability, with 34,000 cases of melanoma diagnosed annually.

“Sadly, skin cancer is considered our ‘national cancer’, and it claims the lives of more than 2,000 Australians every year,” he said.

“There are easy steps we can take to protect ourselves from the sun and reduce our risk of skin cancer, especially if you work outdoors.”

This year’s risk of prolonged sun exposure has the Cancer Council asking tradies to be extra vigilant with any changes they may notice to their skin.

“Sun exposure can cause permanent and irreversible damage to the skin and eyes, and ultimately can cause skin cancer,” Professor Cust said.

“It’s important to check your skin regularly and not just in sun-exposed areas,” she said.

“If you notice anything unusual, including a spot that is itchy or bleeding, or a spot that has changed in shape, colour, or size, it is recommended you get it checked by your doctor as soon as possible.”

Tradespeople can be more SunSmart on the job by following the 5 S’s of sun safety:

1. Slip – on long-sleeved clothing,

2. Slop – on SPF30+ or higher broad-spectrum sunscreen every two hours,

3. Slap – on a wide-brimmed hat,

4. Seek – protection in the shade,

5. Slide – on some sunglasses.

Professor Cust recommended tradies check out the SunSmart Tradie Toolbox, a free resource available for employers, managers and tradies on being SunSmart.

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Paul Eyers has worked as a journalist for a range of media publishers including News Corp and Network Ten. He has also worked outside of Australia, including time spent with ABS-CBN in the Philippines. Stepping away from the media, Paul spent five years sharpening his tools in construction - building his skill set and expertise within the trade industry. His diverse experiences and unique journey have equipped him with an insider view of Australia’s construction game to dig deep into the big stories.

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