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3 May 2022

Why racing’s workforce needs to be sun aware

British Association of Dermatologists’ Sun Awareness Week – 02-08 May

Most skin cancers are caused by skin damage from exposure to the sun, so as a largely outdoor-based workforce, it is important that people working in the racing industry are aware of the dangers of sun exposure and how to prevent ourselves from developing serious skin cancers.

This is something I know all too well, having been diagnosed with a Stage 1 Melanoma in 2019 at the age of 29. I had recently given birth to my second son, and I can tell you that learning of my cancer diagnosis whilst sitting across the room from my husband – who was bouncing our five-month-old baby on his lap – is one of the more poignant moments of my life so far.

Little did I know that, also in 2019, a member of Neil Mulholland’s team, Shannon Scrivens, was being given that same diagnosis – Stage 1 Melanoma. Shannon was only 27 years old and went to the doctor when she found a strange new mark on her arm. Initially doctors were not concerned and told her it was probably eczema, but Shannon rightly continued to voice her concerns which prompted further investigations leading to a formal cancer diagnosis.

Shannon and I both determined that working outdoors on yards from a young age, and not using sufficient sun protection on our fair skin, was the reason behind us developing melanoma in our twenties. Having identified it at such an early stage, the cancer itself is treatable and not too invasive in the grand scheme of things. Though we both agree that the mental anxiety of having to keep a close eye on our skin forevermore will leave a much longer lasting effect.

Shannon strongly believes that racing staff need to be aware of the dangers of working outside in the summer months without sufficient sun protection.

I know first-hand how easy it is to forget about sun protection whilst riding out, and how busy you are when going racing or even when out painting fences in the summer. But essentially the sun has been the cause of my diagnosis and I want to stress the importance of skin protection to an industry I love and to all members of racing staff that work outside all year around – and that is everyone, whether working directly with the horses or in an outdoor role at a racecourse, the dangers are the same for all.

Shannon Scrivens

I couldn’t agree with Shannon more, there are numerous outdoor roles across the industry – stable and stud staff, ground staff, stewards, car park attendants, media… and during busy days working it can be easy for anyone to forget about sun protection! But habits need to be made and stuck to avoid what is a preventable and, if caught in time – curable, disease.

Here are some tips from Shannon and me:

  • Incorporate sunscreen application into your morning routine. Apply to all exposed areas (don’t miss key areas like the ears and the backs of your hands!) when brushing your teeth or getting dressed in the morning, it only takes a few extra minutes.
  • Cover up wherever possible. Choose loose fitting long sleeves or trousers rather than shorts and vest tops. If you are not wearing a riding helmet, consider wearing a sun hat or cap.
  • Keep sunscreen at your workplace. Don’t rely on remembering to take it to work every day, keep a bottle in your tack room, office or in staff communal areas to remind you to reapply. Could you approach your employer and ask them whether this is something they might provide?

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the UK and the number of people diagnosed with the condition continues to rise. The British Skin Foundation says that those working outdoors or with a lot of overall exposure to the sun (even without burning) are at a higher risk of developing non-melanoma skin cancers than those who work indoors.

As we head into the summer months, I’d urge people working in our industry to make themselves aware of the risk factors, take measures to protect themselves and learn how to detect the early signs of skin cancer. And most importantly, if you notice any changes to your skin, however small, please get them checked right away.

For further information on symptoms of skin cancer, and associated risk factors, please go to the Macmillan or British Skin Foundation websites.

A cancer diagnosis can have a huge emotional and mental impact, both on the person affected and their family and friends. Racing’s Support Line offers emotional support to anybody working in the racing or breeding industry, or their dependents, 24hours a day, seven days per week on 0800 6300 443

Chloe Martin, Media and Communications Officer at Racing Welfare