At twelve noon the natives swoon and no further work is done
But mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun

We’ve had the Solstice celebrations down at Stonehenge, the annual merchant industry conference, and the first of the book-your-Christmas-party-with-us emails so it means that Summer has well and truly arrived in the UK. Ah, Summer, that season of two types:  cold, wet, miserable ones that mean our teenagers come back from festivals with trench foot, and sweltering ones with boiling, humid nights, that cause us to wilt in the heat and the great unwashed to dash to the nearest square of grass to strip off and turn into lobsters.

It’s the lobsterfication of the workforce that our latest guest blogger, Marley Eternit’s Katie Prestidge, is concerned with today. And rightly so, since incidences of melanoma are rising alarmingly There are around 15,400 new melanoma skin cancer cases in the UK every year (42 a day). Since the early 1990s, melanoma skin cancer incidence rates have more than doubled (128%) in the UK. Construction workers, probably because they spend so much time in the sun, often with their shirts off, account for a huge number of these new cases.

It makes sense for any company who employs people who work outside in the height of Summer to ensure that they are as well protected as they can be. It’s hard enough to find skilled workers at the moment as it is, let alone having to deal with some of them being off with the effects of the sun, whether that be dehydration, heatstroke or skin cancer. There’s the bigger picture to see as well. You don’t just get a bit of sunburn and bang, it turns into melanoma. It’s a slow burn, if you excuse the pun, and we are building up a huge burden for the NHS if we don’t start taking a bit more responsibility for our skins and those of the people we employ.

However, the key word there is responsibility. Short of pinning people down and applying sunblock to them like a recaltricant toddler, there’s not much we can do to ensure that people do take a bit more responsibility for themselves. It’s the same with hard hats and harnesses. When I had my building work done, I’m pretty sure the only time I saw any of the builders wearing PPE was when the boss and the building inspector was on site. I think my children wore the hats more than the builders. You do a job for long enough and you get blase about certain aspects of it and that’s when mistakes creep in, accidents happen and HSE statistics ratchet up.

You do regularly hear people of an even older generation than mine decrying the use of sunblock, ‘we never bothered with that in my day’ they claim. And that is why there are more melanoma cases amongst the 80-89 year old age bracket than any other in the UK.

So, as they say in Australia, where they know a lot about melanoma – Slip: on a t-shirt, Slap: on a (hard) hat Slop: on the sun cream.

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About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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