Occupational Exposure to Solar UV Radiation and Nonmelanoma Skin Cancer

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Individuals who experience occupational exposure to solar ultraviolet (UV) radiation may have a high rate of nonmelanoma skin cancer incidence and mortality, according to a recent study published by Pega et al in Environment International. These findings highlighted the large and increasing burden of the disease and called for action to prevent the loss of workers’ lives.


“Unprotected exposure to solar [UV] radiation at work is a major cause of occupational skin cancer,” emphasized Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, MSc, PhD, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO). “But there are effective solutions to protect workers from the sun’s harmful rays and prevent their deadly effects,” he added.

New Findings

Investigators estimated that 28% of individuals aged 15 years or older (n = 1.6 billion) were exposed to solar UV radiation while working outdoors in 2019. In the same year, almost 19,000 patients—65% of whom were male—in 183 countries died of nonmelanoma skin cancer caused by occupational exposure to the sun.

The estimates established occupational exposure to solar UV radiation as the work-related risk factor with the third highest attributable burden of cancer mortality around the world. Between 2000 and 2019, skin cancer deaths attributable to occupational exposure to solar UV radiation almost doubled—increasing by 88% from 10,088 deaths in 2000 to 18,960 deaths in 2019. Further, about 33% of deaths from nonmelanoma skin cancer were found to be associated with occupational exposure.

Next Steps

As a result of these findings, the WHO called for more steps to protect workers from hazardous outdoor work in the sun. The organization stressed that as skin cancer develops after years or even decades of exposure, workers must be protected from solar UV radiation at work from a young working age. Governments should also establish, implement, and enforce policies and regulations that protect outdoor workers from sun-induced skin cancer by providing shade, shifting working hours away from the solar noon, providing education and training, and equipping workers with sunscreen and personal protective clothing—such as broad-brimmed hats, long-sleeved shirts, and pants. Protective measures should be implemented when the ultraviolet index is at 3 or higher.

In addition, policymakers should enact measures to reduce the risk of skin cancer, including raising workers’ awareness of when occupational exposure to solar UV radiation occurs, educating them that this exposure can cause skin cancer, and providing services and programs to detect early signs of skin cancer.

“A safe and healthy working environment is a fundamental right at work,” underscored Gilbert F. Houngbo, MBA, Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO). “Death caused by unprotected exposure to solar ultraviolet radiation while working is largely preventable through cost-effective measures. It is urgent that governments, employers, and workers and their representatives work together in a framework of well-defined rights, responsibilities, and duties to reduce the occupational risk of UV exposure. This can save thousands of lives every year,” he concluded.

Recently, the WHO, ILO, World Meteorological Organization, and United Nations Environment Programme launched the new SunSmart Global UV App to help outdoor workers track their occupational exposure to solar UV radiation.

Disclosure: For full disclosures of the study authors, visit

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.