Contractors are being warned to protect themselves and their employees from harmful sun exposure following the publication of a series of new studies that found construction workers are at a heightened risk of skin cancer, ahead of a predicted summer heatwave.

Malignant melanoma kills nearly 50 people in the UK each year because of exposure to the sun at work. Diagnosis rates are rising faster than with any of the top 10 cancers in the UK and men, particularly those working outdoors, are at greater risk. 1.2 million men in the UK have been sunburnt at work, partly because sunscreen is seen as ‘less manly’.

ECIS, an employee benefits company for the construction industry, is highlighting the risks and offering practical tips on how to protect skin from the sun’s harmful rays.

“It’s becoming much less common to see shirtless workers on construction sites when the weather warms up, which is good news,” said Vicki Leslie, development executive at ECIS, “but recent research gives cause for alarm.

“According to Imperial College research, the first to quantify the importance of sun exposure during work time, an estimated one person a week is likely to die because of this, and 5.5 million people in the UK have been exposed to solar radiation through their work.”

In a separate study by the British Association of Dermatologists (BAD), 72% of people were found to have been sunburnt in the past year. The risk of developing melanoma is more than doubled in people with a history of sunburn.

Ms Leslie said: “The shocking figures show that more than 2,100 Britons die from skin cancer every year, making it the most common form of cancer in the UK. While doctors recommend that people conduct monthly checks for skin cancer, BAD’s survey reveals that 40% never check themselves and 77% wouldn’t know the signs of melanoma.

“The research highlights a need for increased awareness to help people protect themselves. This is especially important for firms with workers who spend most of their time outside.

“As we approach midsummer, the sun is especially intense, making skin cancer awareness more important than ever.”

Construction workers should take care and protect themselves, especially if they have fair or freckled skin, red or fair hair and a large number of moles. However, all skin colours need to exercise caution, particularly if they work outside most of the time.

“The construction industry is very aware of the risk of accidental death and injury at work and has made great strides in reducing those risks. However, the danger of skin cancer is one workers outside face every day. The good news is that a few simple, inexpensive precautions can help contractors stay safe, even when the sun shines,” Ms Leslie said.

Reduce the Risk of Skin Cancer with ECIS’s Top Tips for Contractors

  • Cover up: Keep your shirt on to prevent the risk of sunburn

  • Wear a hat: Wear a hat with a brim or a flap that covers the back of your neck

  • Stay in the shade: During your breaks, head for the shade to give your skin some relief

  • Slap it on: Always wear a high factor sunscreen of at least SPF15 on any exposed skin with a high star rating.

  • Reapply: Remember to reapply sun cream every few hours

  • Wear shades: Don’t forget to protect your eyes. Wear sunglasses with 100% UV protection

  • Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration

  • Get it checked: Check your skin for unusual moles or spots. See your GP immediately if a mole changes shape, size or colour or starts itching or bleeding

  • Check the BAD website for further information.