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Educating mine workers on skin cancer

Skin Patrol helps remote mine workers with skin cancer prevention and education. Safe To Work explains.

Australia has the highest levels of skin cancer in the world; over 750,000 Australians are treated for it each year.

Up to two in three will be diagnosed with at least one type of skin cancer by the time they are 70.

Skin cancer is a serious concern at mine sites. Workers are often exposed to extreme heat in harsh conditions. In particular, scorching summers in northern Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia can be particularly dangerous for mine workers, especially between 10am and 3pm.

Skin Patrol has been helping workers with issues related to skin cancer since 2004. The company provides private and confidential checks via on site skin cancer clinics and is Australia’s only mobile medical organisation focused on this practice using the expertise of a doctor and remote dermatologist opinion.

It was founded to increase awareness around the early detection of skin cancer in order to minimise the risks of skin cancer-related deaths and to enable corporations to generate positive employee goodwill with their staff by providing a necessary healthcare service. 

Excessive exposure to the sun’s UV radiation is the main cause of non-melanoma skin cancers such as basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), as well as a significant cause of melanoma.

“Melanoma is no different to any other form of cancer,” explains Skin Patrol director Marion Patrick. “It is the fourth most-common cancer in Australia after prostate, bowel and breast cancer.” 

Melanoma may develop anywhere on the body and often in a mole that has been present for many years and learning the A,B,C,D rule of melanoma detection is important. These stand for asymmetry (A), border change/shape (B), colour (C) and diameter/size (D).

Similarly to other types of cancer a family history of melanoma increases an individual’s risk factor.

Non-melanoma skin cancers such as basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) can also pose serious risks if left undetected. Most common in continually exposed areas such as the face, ears, and hands, warning signs can include red and scaly spots, non-healing sores, and pale, red or pearly lumps.  Skin cancer risk factors include sunburn as a child, excessive exposure, skin type and age.

“All skin types are susceptible to sun damage and sun damage is cumulative,” says Patrick. 

“Damage to our skin starts when we are children and continues through our adult life. The older we get, the greater our risk of a skin cancer developing in a skin-damaged area.”

While mine workers are required to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) such as hard hats, gloves and hi-vis vests, long sleeves, wide brim hats (not baseball caps, Skin Patrol stresses) and long trousers while working are also imperative. It is also recommended that workers regularly apply sunscreen with an SPF30+ rating or above.

“Often male workers do not like to wear sunscreen on their faces as when they perspire they complain it runs into their eyes,” says Patrick.

As mine workers are in a high-risk category, an appointment with a doctor for a dermatological check-up is recommended at least once a year.

This article also appears in the Oct–Dec issue of Safe to Work.

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