GERMANY: Skin cancer, the number one occupational disease in construction

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What was the most common occupational disease in construction in 2020? Skin cancer caused by natural ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Employees in civil engineering and the road construction industry as well as roofers and carpenters are particularly affected.

Due to climate change, Central European countries are experiencing increasingly hot and dry seasons. Between April and September and between 11:00 and 16:00, exposure to natural UV rays is particularly high. It is therefore important to protect yourself even more. High and especially prolonged exposure can lead to serious skin damage. The difficulty is that these lesions are not immediate and it is not uncommon for skin cancer to occur 20 to 30 years after UV exposure. Hence the importance of prevention, which is “possible with just a few simple measures”, says Bernhard Arenz, head of the main prevention department at the  BG BAU, the professional association for the construction industry.

What prevention measures?

Risk assessment is effective in determining appropriate protective measures against harmful UV radiation. Technical solutions are to be preferred, such as protective tents, sunshades or sun sails, which provide shaded workplaces outside. Organisational measures, such as postponing work until early in the morning or after 4 p.m., when UV exposure is lower, can be taken. Finally, personal protection measures – light, breathable, body-covering clothing, preferably cotton, as well as protection for the head, neck, nose and ears – should be taken. Areas of the skin that cannot be covered (face, nose or back of the hand, etc.) should be protected with sun protection creams with an index of at least 30 (or better 50). This protection must be renewed after two hours at the latest. UV protection glasses are recommended to avoid damage to the eyes and retina.

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