Herefords father-of-two backs work health campaign after ‘best tan competitions’ led to skin cancer

A married father-of-two from Ledbury who was diagnosed with skin cancer after a career in the Royal Air Force is backing a national campaign to tackle work-related causes of the disease.

30 April 2015

Peter Jackson, 59, was an RAF weapons technician for 30 years, based at various locations throughout Europe and further afield.

It was a job that often required work outdoors, and Peter would have ‘best tan competitions’ with colleagues on sunny days. However, his exposure to the sun and its potentially harmful ultraviolet rays, led to his diagnosis in May 2013 for malignant melanoma skin cancer.

A life-saving operation followed, in which the melanoma was removed from his right shoulder, and the grandfather-of-three now undergoes regular hospital visits to check against the return of the disease.

He said: “I had no idea whatsoever of the damage the sun would do and yes, on occasion, I did get burnt. Reddening was part of the process to getting a tan – it was part of the culture. Every waking moment, it was a competition to get the best tan.

“We bought bottles of pure coconut oil. Some colleagues put hydraulic oil on their skins in the belief they would get a better tan.

“It never occurred to me that I would be at risk. I had no worries whatsoever and exposed myself to the sun all the time. I didn’t know, I wasn’t told of the risks associated with it.”

Now health, safety and logistics manager at Hartpury College, in Gloucester, Peter is backing a campaign by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) to work with businesses to beat occupational cancer.

“I try to make as many people aware of the risks as I can,” he said. “I have lots of contractors on site. Walking past a site, I will have a long-sleeved shirt on, factor 50 sun cream, and a wide-brimmed hat.

“People will comment, saying it is a bit OTT. There was one guy stripped to his waist. He was red. I told him about my experience and he immediately put a shirt on.

“We need to get the message out to as many people as we can because we still have people who are unaware of the damage the sun can do. Here, I insist that all my grounds teams wear hats and use sun cream.

“I really do think we need a national campaign that’s going to reach everybody. It’s fantastic that IOSH is doing what it can, because we are not hitting home yet.”

As part of its No Time to Lose campaign, membership body IOSH is working with businesses to raise awareness of occupational cancers and issue new and free guidance to help employers protect their workers.

This includes the publication of new research it commissioned into the number of people in the UK diagnosed with or dying from the deadliest form of skin cancer because of sun exposure at work.

It is estimated malignant melanoma kills nearly 50 people each year in the UK because of exposure to solar radiation at work, with 240 new cases being registered, according to the research by Imperial College London.

Combining the findings with a recent study by Imperial College into work-related non-melanoma skin cancer nationwide, we now know as many as five people a day on average in the UK are being diagnosed with a form of skin cancer contracted at work.

Publication of the study, at a cross-industry event in London on April 23, came as a separate research project commissioned by IOSH found a lack of awareness of the risks of solar, or ultraviolet, radiation (UVR) in the industry hardest hit by the disease.

The University of Nottingham research into work attitudes to sun safety in the construction sector found that two thirds of construction workers outside for an average of nearly seven hours a day thought they were not at risk or were unsure if they were.

IOSH executive director of policy Shelley Frost said: “We’ve a clear picture for the UK now of the number of people diagnosed with or dying from skin cancer because of sun exposure at work.

“It’s a terrible disease but with some simple measures we can ensure people who work outside are not exposed to the solar radiation that causes it. Work-related skin cancer is avoidable but businesses and their employees hold the key to beating it and today we are showing them how it can be done.”

Contact Tim Walsh, IOSH Media Manager

[email protected]
+44 (0)116 257 3252
+44 (0)797 660 4715