Taking care in the sun
One of the major impacts of the COVID-19 lockdown was a loss of freedom to do what we wanted, when we wanted and where we wanted. We could not take advantage of the summer in the same way as normal, with holidays abroad being cancelled and travel restrictions at home making it difficult to visit even our own beaches, unless you were fortunate enough to live on the coast!
With UK lockdown restrictions lifted on 19th July and the prospect that more countries will be added to the travel green list, holidays are back on the agenda for many. And so it’s worthwhile reminding employees of some the risks of being in the sun, and the protection habits we’ve not used for a while.
Even on a cool, cloudy day in the summer, you can get sunburn. Skin cancer is the fifth most common cancer in the UK. This may be surprising because we don’t have a hot climate, but don’t be fooled. Add overseas holidays into the mix and the risk can increase if the right care isn’t taken.
Research has shown that the risk of developing melanoma skin cancer can triple by just getting sunburnt every other year (Cancer Research UK). Even a single case of sunburn can lead to skin cancer, so protection should be a priority.
‘There is no such thing as a healthy tan’ – that is simply your skin trying to repair itself after being damaged. Sun beds do not offer a safe tanning option either.
If you’re not sure how strong the sun is, checking the UV factor is a good guide. Anything over 3 means the sun can cause damage, especially if you burn easily, and the higher the value, the quicker it happens. UV levels for the UK and abroad can be found on many weather apps and websites.
Basic advice is to avoid going out between 12-2.00pm on a hot day if you can (add an hour either side for babies and young children) but if you’re perhaps restricted by a lunch hour or the temptation is too much, then cover up and keep to the shade where possible.
Don’t forget the sunscreen and sunglasses. Sunscreens can offer UVB and UVA protection (ones with at least a 4 or 5-star rating). Choose wrap-around sunglasses with 100% UVA protection.
The good news is that 9 out of 10 cases of skin cancer could be avoided by taking the right precautions, so you don’t need to avoid the sun altogether. It has so many good things to offer. It improves our wellbeing. It makes us feel happier – so important for anyone who suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). The vitamin D that our bodies create from UV rays is also important for the absorption of calcium and phosphate, needed to keep our bones, teeth and muscles strong.
As an employer, you can help build awareness of how employees can safely enjoy the sun.
- Signpost company resources that could help – Employee Assistance Programmes, for example, offer a wealth of information.
- Make sure you know all the extras that come with your benefit plans. Do they offer a Virtual GP service? This is great if people can’t get to see their own GP quickly, and especially useful for skin concerns if you can send a photo of a mole or patch of skin you are worried about. Is there a self-referral pathway, so they don’t need to see a GP first? Is a mole-checking service or app included?
- Maybe send out a dedicated care package, which are always well received in the current virtual, working from home environment, with summer safety tips and sun care goods – offering a wellbeing message that reminds employees that getting out into nature and the sunshine is important; but remember the sunscreen!
- · Employees often don’t know about everything they have access to, so consistent communication is key – isn’t it always! Make sure they know what is available and encourage anyone with concerns around skin cancer to take action – if in doubt check it out!
Petra Tyrrell – Benefit Consultant