Lifeguard Skin Cancer Protection - An Approach to Protecting Health and Promoting Image

TitleLifeguard Skin Cancer Protection - An Approach to Protecting Health and Promoting Image
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication1997
AuthorsBrewster, CB
Conference NameInternational Medical-Rescue Conference
Date Published09/1997
PublisherInternational Life Saving Federation
Conference LocationSan Diego, California, USA
Call Number06
Other Numbers033

The problem of skin cancer is insidious. As a result of high levels of sun exposure, many lifeguards have sustained this disease, even at a young age. Throughout the world however, lifeguards can be seen working under the sun with little protection, wearing a minimum of clothing, even during the most severe hours of the mid-day sun.

Lifesaving is a hazardous profession. Orthopedic injuries abound, trauma injuries can occur due to wave action and other factors, and, occasionally, death can result. For this reason, in Southern California, many professional lifeguards are classified as having high risk jobs and are given enhanced injury and retirement benefits in recognition of that risk. The high risk designation was not conferred with skin cancer in mind, but beginning several years ago, skin cancer emerged as a significant injury source.

In the early 1980’s, the San Diego Lifeguard Service realized that it had a problem. Lifeguards were contracting skin cancer at a seemingly accelerating rate, some forced to retire early. Experienced lifeguards seemed most susceptible. They had been guarding the beaches long before sunblock became commonly available and fully recognized as a valuable protectant; but even younger lifeguards were developing this disease. In fact, from 1984 to 1989, 25 San Diego lifeguards sought treatment or medical evaluation for suspected skin cancer.

In some cases, the cancer was treated and resolved, with doctors determining that the lifeguards could continue to work, using proper precautions. In other cases, the cancer was treated, but doctors determined that the lifeguards could no longer return to their customary and usual assignments. They were disabled and forced to retire – some while only in their 30’s.

In either case, the results were costly, both to the physical well-being of the lifeguards and the financial well-being of their employer. California maintains employment laws that require both treatment of injured workers and certain payments to workers when they are permanently injured on the job. When they are forced to retire early, there is an additional cost borne by the employee retirement system. In the case of retirements, the employer must hire new, less experienced personnel to take the place of those departing, and incur the costs of training. Such was the case for City of San Diego.