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Are you at risk for UV ray exposure at work?

By: Heather P. Lampel, MD, MPH, FAAD, FACOEM

Typically, when we think of “occupational” or on the job skin cancer risk, we think of outdoor workers. It’s true, occupations like construction and agricultural workers have a higher risk because these workers are out in the sun for extended periods of time. Public servicemen and women and military workers, including police, firefighters and the armed forces, also have a higher risk. Anyone spending a majority of their workday outdoors needs to be more mindful of the dangers of UV exposure than others.

That said, through the course of the workday, everyone is exposed to UV to some degree. You – likely someone who is commuting on a regular basis – are at risk. Whether you’re driving in your own vehicle or riding in public transportation, protection from UV rays is inconsistent. Vehicle glass is often treated to help decrease UV rays, but this is variable depending on the vehicle and whether the glass is on the front, side or roof.

If you’re flying on a business trip, your exposure increases significantly. According to the American Medical Association, an hour of sun exposure on a plane is the equivalent of spending about 20 minutes in a tanning bed. As you climb in altitude, the thinner atmosphere filters less UV radiation. Sun protection becomes even more important.

The best thing anyone can do – whether they work inside or outside, in the air or on the ground – is to be aware of their exposure, and safeguard against it.

Tips for intermittent exposure indoors:

  1. Wear sunscreen daily (rain or shine!)
  2. Wear sun protective clothing when commuting. Keep gloves and sleeves to cover overexposed hands and arms, when driving, riding or flying
  3. Wear sunglasses during your commute to protect your eyes from exposure
  4. If you sit next to a window at work, apply a window film that blocks UVA and UVB rays
  5. If your “office” is your car, invest in a window film for the front, driver and passenger side windows

Tips for consistent exposure outside:

  1. Talk to your employer about your need and options for sun protection
  2. Wear sun-protective clothing that matches the demands of your job. Not all UPF 50+ fabrics perform the same way
  3. Always have a hat with a full brim to shield your face and neck
  4. Wear sunscreen daily (rain or shine!) for all exposed areas
  5. Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from exposure

Additionally, take these tips home with you. Our workplace skin protective behaviors impact our home and leisure sun behaviors and visa versa.  We need to protect our skin both at work and at home since our skin goes with us everywhere!  For everyone, no matter where you work or spend your days, it’s important that you’re aware of your skin – its baseline color, markings and blemishes. If you or a friend note any skin changes, these should be checked by a professional.

Research has shown that patients, not doctors, are most likely to spot their melanoma, reinforcing the importance of thoroughly checking your skin each month.

Melanoma Research Foundation

Additionally, schedule an annual exam with a professional. No matter your background, age, race or gender – Melanoma and other skin cancers don’t discriminate so you ARE at risk. When melanoma isn’t recognized and treated early, it can spread to other parts of the body where it becomes hard to treat and can be fatal. The prevention and early detection of skin cancer can save lives!

Dr. Lampel is a board-certified dermatologist practicing in Raleigh, North Carolina. She is a Fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology and of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.  She has an interest in occupational skin disease including skin cancer and melanoma. 

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