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Published: May, 2008; Vol 4, Num 12

 

Laborers and the Sun: Look How Far We’ve Come

Not too long ago on hot summer days, Laborers enjoyed working outdoors without shirts or neck flaps. A tan was the payoff for a long, hard day’s work in the sun.

Mike Cackowski remembers those days well. In his early construction career, the New Jersey Laborer and Training Center Director enjoyed getting plenty of sun.  “If I was at a site and able to take my shirt off, I did – just like other workers,” he explains in the Laborers’ True Stories DVD. “The thought of sunscreen for me was never an option… maybe because I was macho and [thought] I didn’t need it.”

What he did not know is that his deep tan was setting the stage for skin cancer. Years later, he noticed that a mole on his chest looked similar to one he saw on a bookmark distributed by the Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund of North America. The bookmark showed pictures of what to look for when checking for skin cancer. When Mike went to the dermatologist, he discovered that it was an early sign of melanoma. Thankfully, doctors were able to help him in time.

Countless other Laborers have spent time working unprotected in the sun, and some members still do. Because of this, the LHSFNA sponsors the annual Skin Cancer Prevention Campaign, also referred to as “Sun Sense.” The campaign begins in the spring to correspond with Skin Cancer Prevention Month in May. The LHSFNA sends materials to Laborers-AGC training centers, LIUNA regional offices and district councils and the regional health and safety funds for distribution to local unions in both Canada and the United States.

“Our Skin Cancer Prevention Campaign grows in popularity ever year,” says LIUNA General President Terence M. O’Sullivan. “Laborers are wearing neck flaps and long sleeve shirts on their jobsites. They are using sunscreen of SPF 15 and higher. The Fund’s ‘Sun Sense’ program has changed the way Laborers work in the sun.”

As Laborers make health a top priority, the LHSFNA is ready with a variety of sun protection materials. This year, campaign materials include:

  1. Neck flaps
  2. Lip balm
  3. Sunscreen towelettes
  4. Assorted posters
  5. Health alert cards (English and Spanish)
  6. Melanoma bookmarks
  7. UV cards

Like Mike, you may have spent your younger years in the sun before you knew the damage that it can cause. Know the skin you are in. Check your body for moles or other pigmented lesions that may change in shape or color. Also, look for any new growths and lingering sores.  Consult your doctor if you find anything that causes concern.

The LHSFNA hopes that the days of shirtless construction workers baking in the sun are over. Knowing the facts and protecting yourself are the best forms of prevention.

Just ask Mike. “If I’d never looked at that self-check chart, it still would have been in my body. It probably would have gotten larger and spread a lot further – possibly to the point where I wouldn’t have recovered. Don’t ever think you’re indestructible because it can happen to you.”

For more information on how to order Skin Cancer Prevention Campaign materials, contact the Health Promotion Division at (202) 628-5465.

[Jennifer E. Jones]