White skin cancer officially recognised as an occupational illness
As of 1 January 2015, white skin cancer has been added to the German Ordinance on Occupational Diseases. Workwear offering UV protection provides effective protection against skin cancer caused by exposure to sunlight.
BÖNNIGHEIM (on) Since 1 January 2015, on the recommendation of the scientific committee on "Occupational Diseases" at the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS), certain forms of so-called white skin cancer that are caused by exposure to sunlight have been included in the German Ordinance on Occupational Diseases. These include squamous epithelial carcinomas or their early stages (multiple actinic keratosis). Especially people who frequently work outdoors have a significantly higher risk of developing white skin cancer than people in other occupations. These at-risk groups include not only outdoor workers such as swimming pool attendants, construction workers and gardeners but also people in occupations where their place of work changes (indoors and outdoors) such as sports instructors, playgroup leaders and window-cleaners. International studies by Knutschke show that UV exposure for these people is 2-3 times higher than for people working only indoors.
The new ruling presents a big challenge for trade unions and insurance companies, because it is almost impossible to establish whether the disease occurred due to leisure activities or to a person's professional occupation. The pressure on employers to take more preventive measures has also increased since 1 January 2015.
The German Social Accident Insurance association (DGUV) recommends working with employers to find effective ways of protecting at-risk occupational groups.
One way of preventing skin cancer would be the consistent wearing of workwear that offers high UV protection. From a medical point of view, UV-protective clothing offers far better protection from sunlight than cosmetic sunscreens. As well as the colour, it is mainly the composition of the material and the fabric structure which determine the UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) that indicates the protection factor of the textiles in the same way as the SPF (Sun Protection Factor) on sun creams.
There are various methods for measuring the UPF, the Australian-New Zealand standard (AS/NZS 4399:1996), testing under EN 13758-1 and AATCC 183 and testing for compliance with UV Standard 801. These test standards define different specifications for the materials being tested. The Australian-New Zealand standard and testing under EN 13758-1 and AATCC 183 only require testing to be carried out on the unstretched, dry textile in new condition. The UV Standard 801 is considerably more practical: for clothing textiles, the UPF is worked out for the stretched, wet textile, after some mechanical wear caused by use and textile care. It is also based on the maximum level of UV radiation (sun spectrum in Melbourne, Australia, at the height of the Australian summer) and therefore on a worst-case scenario. For this reason, when it comes to preventing skin cancer by means of workwear, calculating the UPF on the basis of the UV Standard 801 is the best option.
As part of a research project at the Hohenstein Institute (AiF15749N), prototypes have been developed that offer particularly high protection, UPF 80, in the shoulder area. To achieve this, the scientists at the Hohenstein Institute developed special fibres with "built-in" UV protection - they contain titanium dioxide and so absorb the harmful UV radiation. These textiles are also particularly hardwearing.
Since people working outdoors in hot weather sweat a lot, special textile zones under the armpits and around the stomach have been optimised for transporting sweat. This ensures that the clothing not only offers high UV protection but is also breathable. The experts used stretchy materials for the back and sleeves, allowing freedom of movement and making the clothes comfortable to wear.
The Hohenstein Institute believes that there is now no reason why workwear with integrated UV protection should not be used. It provides effective protection for the wearer from skin cancer caused by sunlight and at the same time meets all the criteria for comfort and durability. Confirmation of the UPF on the label would give end users the option of choosing their workwear based on the UV protection it offers.