Skin Cancer Prevention & Employer Responsibilities

Did you know that the 20th to the 26th of November 2016 is National Skin Cancer Action Week? The week is held every year at the start of summer and is focused on reminding Australians of the importance of sun safety, early skin cancer detection and skin cancer prevention.

With 2 in 3 Australians diagnosed with skin cancer by age 70, it is likely that either yourself, or someone you know, has been diagnosed with some form of skin cancer. To get involved in the Week we have decided to dedicate this week’s article to the types of skin cancer, identifying the causes of skin cancer, how to assist in skin cancer prevention, as well as taking a look at skin cancer in the workplace.

Skin cancer occurs when skin cells are damaged, for example, by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. There are three main types of skin cancer, being:

  • Basal cell carcinoma;
  • Squamous cell carcinoma; and
  • Melanoma – the most dangerous form of skin cancer.

Melanoma is the third most common cancer in Australian women and the fourth most common cancer in men. It is the most common cancer in Australians aged 15-44 years. In 2012, 12,036 Australians were diagnosed with melanoma.

Causes of Skin Cancer

Every year, in Australia:

  • Skin cancers account for around 80% of all newly diagnosed cancers;
  • Between 95% and 99% of skin cancers are caused by exposure to the sun;
  • GP’s have over 1 million patient consultations per year for skin cancer;
  • Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world, 2 to 3 times the rates in Canada, USA and UK.

In addition to this, Queensland has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world. Therefore if you live in Queensland you are at a greater risk of developing skin cancer. This places outdoor workers at particular risk of developing skin cancer while at work, due to year-round exposure to high levels of UV radiation.

Skin Cancer Claims

Approximately 1,360 workers compensation claims for sun related injury/disease have been made in Australia between 2000 and 2009.

If your work has caused or contributed to you developing skin cancer you may be able to claim compensation. To be successful in your application for compensation with WorkCover Qld, your work must have “substantially contributed” to your skin cancer diagnosis. If an injured worker’s claim for compensation is accepted they will be entitled to receive benefits for:

  • Medical and rehabilitation expenses;
  • Wages lost during any period they are incapacitated for work by reason of their cancer;
  • A lump sum payment if they have suffered a degree of permanent impairment.

In addition to these statutory benefits an injured worker may also be able to successfully claim common law damages against their employer if they can prove that their skin cancer was caused by their employer’s negligence.

An employer has a primary duty to ensure the health and safety of their workers in the workplace. An employer must, as far as it is reasonably practicable, minimise the risk of injury to their workers by eliminating or minimising hazards in the workplace.

Over exposure to UV radiation is regarded as a hazard. Skin cancer is a common work-related cancer, but most skin cancers can be prevented by the use of good sun protection.  So what can an employer do to minimise a workers exposure to the sun, thereby reducing their risk of developing skin cancer while at work?

Skin Cancer Prevention – What Can Employers Do?

An employer could control exposure by:

  • Where possible, organising schedules so outdoor work is completed early in the morning or late in the afternoon i.e. before 10am and after 3pm;
  • Where possible, rotating tasks that involve direct sun exposure;
  • Providing shade for outdoor workers;
  • Providing training and education sessions for workers on sun protection;
  • Adopting a sun safety policy;
  • Providing and ensuring workers use personal protective equipment including sun protective clothing (shirts with longer sleeves, collars, close weave and darker colours), broad-brimmed hats, sunglasses, and SPF30+ water-resistant sunscreen.

Given the high risk Queenslanders have for developing skin cancer, employers should make skin cancer prevention a priority. Both employers and employees have a duty to reduce workplace hazards, including exposure to UV radiation. Protection from the sun is not only important while at work, but it is important for everyone at any time, especially in the summer months.  National Skin Cancer Action Week is a reminder to all Australians that sun protection saves lives.

With over 2000 people dying from skin cancer in 2011 there has never been a better time than to reiterate the slip, slop slap, seek and slide message:

  • slip on some sun protective clothing,
  • slop on some SPF 30+ sunscreen,
  • slap on a wide-brimmed hat,
  • seek shade, and
  • slide on some sunglasses.

Australians are also encouraged to check their skin regularly for any changes. Combining these methods is the key to reducing your skin cancer risk and could even save your life!

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