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

Monday 19th June, 2017

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 Monday 19 June 2017 to 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.”

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.

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

Advice on how to reduce the risk either for yourself or somebody you know can be obtained from NHS Choices, NHS 111 or from your local chemist.

How to contact the communications team

You can reach our communication team by:

  • Calling – 01903 707447
  • Emailing –
  • Writing to – Communications Team, NHS Coastal West Sussex CCG, 1 The Causeway, Goring-by-Sea, West Sussex, BN12 6BT