For many outdoor workers one of the greatest risks associated with their line of work is daily sun exposure. Exposure to the sun is a concern throughout the year for these workers, not just in the heat of the summer. Heavy machinery operators who are exposed to the midday sun on a daily basis have developed life threatening illness such as melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer. With melanoma rates continuing to rise, several medical organizations have undertaken comprehensive studies to determine the most effective sun protection habits for outdoor workers.
The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) recently released its findings on the effectiveness of interventions to protect outdoor workers from developing skin cancers. These included a mix of providing education, wearing sunscreen on a consistent basis, and receiving text message reminders of the risks associated with daily sun exposure. Over 350 heavy machinery operators participated in the study, which measured the effectiveness of these interventions separately and when implemented together.
Study participants were divided into four random groups to determine the effectiveness of the various interventions. The groups included: 1) those who received only education about the importance of sun protection, 2) those who received education along with follow up text message reminders, 3) those who received the education and were mailed sunscreen and 4) those who received education, text message reminders and were mailed sunscreen. While the data indicated that the use of sunscreen improved in all four groups, the greatest increase in sunscreen use was in those groups that received the mailed sunscreen. Importantly, all four groups reported a decrease in the total amount of sunburns.
Use of Sunscreen
In a 2014 National Cancer Institute study, only 30 percent of heavy machinery operators reported using sunscreen regularly. Over 80 percent of those surveyed had suffered at least one sunburn in the prior year, an indicator of an increased risk for skin cancer. The use of sunscreen to prevent skin cancer resulting from sun exposure is a crucial part of any sun protection plan.
Text Messaging Reminders
Some research participants also were sent text messages to remind them of the importance of sun protection while working outdoors. The frequent reminders increased the likelihood outdoor heavy machinery operators would regularly use sunscreen on the job.
Even without the additional use of sunscreen or the receiving of text message reminders, outdoor heavy machinery operators benefitted from receiving educational training on the importance of sun protection. Workers in an educational invention program typically receive information during 30 minute annual safety trainings regarding the types of skin cancer, the likelihood of developing skin cancer, risk factors for the development of skin cancer and sunburn prevention. The percentage of participants who report never having worn sunscreen during their workday fell from approximately 38 to 22 percent after attending these educational sessions.
The AACR report concluded providing proper sun protection educational training while minimizing the barriers to sunscreen use can result in an increased use of sunscreen and a decrease in the amount of sunburns suffered by outdoor heavy machinery operators.
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