NHS urges South region outdoor workers to “Cover Up, Mate” to reduce risk of skin cancer

Health experts are urging men in the South who spend a lot of time outdoors to protect themselves against the sun, to reduce the risk of skin cancer.

Skin cancer rates are higher than average and rising in the South, and the NHS “Cover Up, Mate” campaign which launched today will target male agricultural and construction workers, gardeners and sports-players – who often don’t use suncream.

As a result the campaign is supported by a range of organisations connected to outdoor work including the Met Office, the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), the National Farmers Union, Mole Valley Farmers farming supply retailer, suncream manufacturer Debs and building supplies retailer Jewson.

A recent Imperial College study, commissioned by IOSH estimated that there are 48 deaths and 241 cases of melanoma skin cancer a year in Britain caused by ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun at work. Of these, construction workers made up the highest number of deaths (44%), followed by agriculture workers (23%).

The warning comes as new data suggests the danger is not confined to the height of summer, following good weather in April and May which could have damaged winter-pale skin.

Mean ultraviolet (UV) radiation levels at the South East’s solar monitoring station in Oxfordshire were 40 per cent higher than the ten year monthly average in April this year, and 15 percent higher in May. The same was true for the South West as the solar monitoring station in Cornwall recorded UV levels 34 per cent higher than the ten year monthly average in April this year. And while mean levels were overall the same as normal in May, peak levels were still 15 per cent higher, indicating that UV was stronger than normal at certain points.

Public Health England (PHE) scientists believe this was caused by long periods of clear skies, with less rain and cloud to absorb UV.

The Met Office recorded that the mean daily temperature in the South East was 0.7°C higher than average in April and 1.5°C higher than average in May. April also saw 21 per cent more sunshine hours, with just 18 per cent of average rainfall recorded. After a dry start to May, there was overall 1 per cent less sunshine and 27 per cent more rain than average, due to an unsettled spell mid month and thunderstorms at the end.

In the South West, the mean daily temperature was 0.6°C higher than average in April and 1.5°C higher in May. April saw 15 per cent more sunshine hours and just 35 per cent of average rainfall. And May saw 4 per cent more sunshine and only 85 per cent of average rainfall.

The better weather may have prompted people to spend more time outside, thereby exposing themselves to the greater UV levels. This was also a time of year their skin would naturally have lost resistance to UV over winter, and they were less likely to cover up than in summer.

Professor John O’Hagan, from PHE, said: “This spring we had longer periods of sunshine and more people spending time outside. It all led to people being at far greater risk of sunburn at a time when their un-acclimatised skin was more susceptible.”

NHS England South Medical Director, Nigel Acheson, said: “You can’t feel UV radiation, so it’s very easy to get sunburnt in the UK, even when it’s not particularly warm. But sunburn causes skin cancer so it’s important people take more care, especially men and those who work outside. They need to use at least factor 15 sunscreen with good UV-A protection and apply it generously on all exposed skin.”

Met Office spokeswoman Penny Tranter said: “UV levels in the UK are usually highest between April and October, particularly between 11am and 3pm. Clouds don’t always stop UV rays, and unlike the sun’s warmth, it’s difficult to know when they may be harming you. Burning just once every two years can triple your risk of skin cancer. So it’s important to keep up to date with our UV forecast so you know when it’s essential to protect your skin and eyes from damage. You can do this by going into shade, wearing clothing and sunglasses which shield you from the sun, and using sunscreen on unprotected skin.”