top of page
  • Writer's pictureMark Baker

Understanding the Importance of Workplace Skin Checks and the Dangerous Connection Between UV Light and Skin Cancer

In Aotearoa New Zealand, where the sun is a cherished aspect of our lifestyle, it's critical to recognize the dual nature of our relationship with the sun. Whilst the sun provides those sunny memories throughout the year, it also emits ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which in large doses can cause severe sunburn and long term damage to our skin. The correlation between UV exposure (i.e. those working outside) and the increased risk of skin cancer is particularly pertinent for businesses and their workforce in New Zealand, where our UV levels are some of the highest in the world.

A picture of the sun in the clouds referencing the connection between UV light and skin cancer in New Zealand
As much as we all love the sun and the warmth it provides, it can be too much of a good thing.

Understanding Ultraviolet Light

Before we explore the connection between UV light and skin cancer and the importance of workplace skin checks, let's break down the different types of UV radiation that come from the sun and their effects.

  1. UVA (Ultraviolet A): These long-wave rays are the most abundant in sunlight and penetrate deep into the skin. While they are associated with premature skin aging, they are less likely to cause direct DNA damage and contribute to skin cancer. 

  2. UVB (Ultraviolet B): These shorter-wave rays are more intense and primarily affect the skin's outer layers. They are the primary culprits behind sunburns and the associated DNA damage. When not adequately repaired, this damage contributes to the development of skin cancer.

  3. UVC (Ultraviolet C): UVC rays have the shortest-wavelength of the three, and therefore are the most harmful. Thankfully, the Earth's ozone layer in the atmosphere blocks UVC, so they do not pose a significant risk to us and our skin health.

The Sun and Skin Cancer Risk

The connection between UV light and skin cancer risk is a complex one, but several key factors come into play:

  1. Tanning A tan is the skin's canary in the coalmine. The production of melanin in response to UV exposure is your skin's short-term solution to defend itself against harmful rays. The skin is trying to prevent further injury by darkening it's colour.  However, any change in skin colour is evidence of DNA damage in the outer-most layers of our skin and this increases visible signs of aging, and your risk for skin cancer in the future.

  2. Sunburn Sunburn is a clear sign of overexposure to UVB rays. It is an inflammatory reaction that indicates your outer-most layers of your skin have been damaged by the sun. No matter how mild, every burn is a sign of injury to your skin that can result in premature aging and the development skin cancer.

  3. Skin Type People with fair skin, light hair, and blue or green eyes are more susceptible to UV radiation's harmful effects, and are more likely to develop skin cancers of the body. However, the sun can still cause cellular damage to people with tan or dark skin types, even if the damage is less obvious. The risk of darker skin types getting melanomas on the soles of the feet and hands and nailbeds is 40-50% higher than fair skin types. 

  4. Ozone Depletion The ozone layer is a protective shield in the Earth's atmosphere, that blocks amount of UVC rays emitted by our sun. The modern depletion of the Ozone layer allows more UV radiation to reach the Earth's surface, increasing everyone's exposure to this skin-damaging phenomenon, and therefore increasing risk for developing skin cancer.

  5. Outdoor work For outdoor workers in New Zealand, the risk of UV exposure is significantly heightened. Those working in sectors such as construction, agriculture, landscaping, and road maintenance spend considerable time under direct sunlight. This continuous exposure increases their risk of skin damage, premature aging, and importantly, skin cancer.

Addressing UV Risk in the Workplace with Skin Checks

For businesses in New Zealand, protecting employees from UV exposure is not just a matter of health; it's a critical health and safety risk that needs addressing. Companies can play a pivotal role in mitigating the risk of skin cancer among their workforce by implementing sun safety protocols, providing education on UV protection, and encouraging regular skin checks.

At Healthbox, we work with organisations and partners throughout New Zealand in delivering tailored workshops and SkinChecks, designed to educate and protect your employees against the risks of UV exposure and skin cancer. By integrating Healthbox’s expertise into your health and safety protocols, you can equip your team with the knowledge and tools they need to minimize their sun exposure risks effectively. Reach out to us today to explore how we can help your sun safe workplace thrive.


bottom of page