Go to navigation

Health experts urge South East outdoor workers to “Cover Up, Mate” to reduce risk of skin cancer

10 July

Health experts are urging men in the South East who spend a lot of time outdoors to protect themselves against the sun, to reduce the risk of skin cancer.

Skin cancer rates are higher than average and rising in the South East, and the NHS “Cover Up, Mate” campaign launched today(19) will target men who work in agriculture and construction, gardeners and sports-players – who often don’t use suncream.

Consultant Stephen Walsh, skin cancer lead at St Richard’s Hospital in Chichester said:

“Every time you burn or tan you are causing irreversible damage to your skin that accumulates over time. This not only increases the risk of developing skin cancer but also causes premature wrinkling and  ageing of the skin. The head and neck are the most common areas for non-melanoma skin cancers as they are the most exposed but we frequently forgot to protect ourselves properly when out in the sun.

“Most cases of malignant melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, could have been prevented by appropriate skin protection. It's a rapidly increasing form of cancer – worryingly so in younger age groups – particularly when it's largely preventable by sensible behaviour when out in the sun”.

The warning comes as new data suggests the danger is not confined to the height of summer, following good weather in April and May which could have damaged winter-pale skin.

Average ultraviolet (UV) radiation levels at the South East’s solar monitoring station in Oxfordshire were 40 per cent higher than the ten year monthly average in April this year, and 15 percent higher in May.

Public Health England (PHE) scientists believe this was caused by long periods of clear skies, with less rain and cloud to absorb UV.

The Met Office recorded that the mean daily temperature in the South East was 0.7°C higher than average in April and 1.5°C higher than average in May. April also saw 21 per cent more sunshine hours, with just 18 per cent of average rainfall recorded. After a dry start to May, there was overall 1 per cent less sunshine and 27 per cent more rain than average, due to an unsettled spell mid-month and thunderstorms at the end.

The better weather may have prompted people to spend more time outside, thereby exposing themselves to the greater UV levels. This was also a time of year their skin would naturally have lost resistance to UV over winter, and they were less likely to cover up than in summer.

Professor John O’Hagan, from PHE, said:

“This spring we had longer periods of sunshine and more people spending time outside. It all led to people being at far greater risk of sunburn at a time when their un-acclimatised skin was more susceptible.”

Dr James Thallon, Medical Director, NHS England south east said:

“You can’t feel UV radiation, so it’s very easy to get sunburnt in the UK, even when it’s not particularly warm. But sunburn causes skin cancer so it’s important people take more care, especially men and those who work outside. They need to use at least factor 15 sunscreen with good UV-A protection and apply it generously on all exposed skin.”

Met Office spokeswoman Penny Tranter said:

“UV levels in the UK are usually highest between April and October, particularly between 11am and 3pm. Clouds don’t always stop UV rays, and unlike the sun’s warmth, it’s difficult to know when they may be harming you. Burning just once every two years can triple your risk of skin cancer. So it’s important to keep up to date with our UV forecast so you know when it’s essential to protect your skin and eyes from damage. You can do this by going into shade, wearing clothing and sunglasses which shield you from the sun, and using sunscreen on unprotected skin.”


Cover Up, Mate


The Cover Up, Mate campaign urges men who spend long periods of time outdoors to protect themselves against the sun. Farmers, builders, sportsmen and gardeners are all being targeted by NHS England South’s “Cover Up, Mate” campaign because of their prolonged exposure to the sun.

As a result the campaign is supported by a range of organisations connected to outdoor work including the Met Office, the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), the National Farmers Union, Mole Valley Farmers farming supply retailer, suncream manufacturer Debs and building supplies retailer Jewson.

A recent Imperial College study, commissioned by IOSH estimated that there are 48 deaths and 241 cases of melanoma skin cancer a year in Britain caused by ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun at work. Of these, construction workers made up the highest number of deaths (44%), followed by agriculture workers (23%).

Research also indicates that men are worse at protecting themselves from the sun. A YouGov survey, commissioned by Cancer Research UK, found that more than 50 per cent more men than women forget to protect their skin and, worryingly, 75 per cent more men than women are not worried about getting sunburnt.

Latest statistics from Cancer Research show that since the late 1970s, skin cancer incidence rates have more than quadrupled (360% increase) in the UK. The increase is larger in males where rates have increased more than six-fold (544% increase), than in females where rates have more than tripled (263% increase).

Public Health England statistics show that many local areas across the South have higher rates of malignant melanoma than the national average. Between 2005 and 2014, incidence of malignant melanoma in men rose by 47.3% in the South East. Deaths by malignant melanoma in this time also rose by 34.6% in the South East.

Cancer Research stats show that:

·         a tan is a sign of skin damage – not health – and may offer only factor 3 protection.

·         getting painful sunburn, just once every two years, can triple your risk of melanoma skin cancer;

·         you're at higher risk of skin cancer if you have fair skin, moles or freckles, red or fair hair, or light-          coloured eyes; and

·         the highest risk months in the UK are May to September when UV rates are higher.


Official NHS advice on staying safe in the sun is:

·         spend time in the shade if you can

·         make sure you never burn

·         cover up with suitable clothing and sunglasses

·         use at least factor 15 sunscreen


The earlier skin cancer is caught, the easier it is to treat, so see your GP as soon as possible if any moles or freckles change size or shape.


Construction, agricultural and horticultural businesses are also being asked to sign up to a pledge to encourage their employees to protect against the sun. The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health’s (IOSH) No Time to Lose campaign aims to raise awareness of occupational cancer, such as from solar radiation, and help businesses take action. Its pledge is a six-point action plan which includes assessing the risks and developing prevention strategies.  IOSH has developed free practical resources such as videos, case studies, posters, available here.



cover up mate


• For more information about UV rates or for interviews of John O’Hagan from PHE contact Matthew Pardo at Matthew.Pardo@phe.gov.uk or 01235 825 406.

• For more information about the weather or for interviews of Penny Tranter from the Met Office contact Emma Sharples at emma.sharples@metoffice.gov.uk or 01392 886655.

• The PHE solar monitoring stations report the UV irradiance (weighted for its ability to cause skin reddening or erythema) in milliwatts per square metre (mW/m2), or its intensity on a flat surface at ground level. The ten year mean at Chilton in Oxfordshire was 49 mW/m2 for April. In April 2017, the mean value for the month was 69 mW/m2. The equivalent information for May was 65 mW/m2 average with the May 2017 mean of 74 mW/m2. PHE’s live solar UV data feeds are available at: https://uk-air.defra.gov.uk/data/uv-index-graphs.

• Met Office weather data is as follows:



Actual °C          Diff to average °C

Mean temp:      8.0                   0.6      
Min temp:         3.9                   0.5
Max temp:        12.2                  0.7

SE and Cen S Eng
Actual °C          Diff to average °C

Mean temp:      9.4                   0.7      
Min temp:         4.2                   0.0      
Max temp:        14.6                  1.4

Actual mm        % of average
England             19.0                  32
SE and Cen S Eng   9.8               18


Actual hours     % of average
England            162.0                109
SE and Cen S Eng    205.3          121      

Actual °C          Diff to average °C
Mean temp:  12.9                        1.7    
Min temp:       8.3                       1.6                 
Max temp:    17.5                        1.7       
SE and Cen S Eng
Actual °C          Diff to average °C
Mean temp:  13.5                        1.5     
Min temp:       8.8                       1.5        
Max temp:    18.2                        1.5       
Actual mm        % of average
England            57.9                    99   
SE and Cen S Eng    69.2             127                  
Actual hours     % of average
England            201.4                  106                                   
SE and Cen S Eng      199.3           99