Working safely in the sun
The workplace is a major source of exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation for many Australians. It is not surprising that outdoor workers who are required to spend long periods of time working in the sun, year after year, have a higher than average risk of skin cancer.
When it comes to health in the workplace, prevention is far better than cure. In consultation with health and safety representatives and employees, employers should identify solar UV radiation exposure hazards, and introduce control measures to reduce exposure.
- Why are SunSmart work environments important?
- Information for employers
- Information for employees
- How can Cancer Council WA help?
- UV and heat
People who work outdoors in Australia receive up to 10 times more sun exposure than indoor workers, placing them at higher risk of skin damage and skin cancer. Because of this higher risk it is recommended outdoor workers use sun protection whenever they are outside all year round.
In Australia it's estimated approximately 200 melanomas and 34,000 other skin cancers diagnosed each year are the result of UV damage in the workplace.
Implementing a comprehensive sun protection program, which includes a range of simple protective measures, can prevent UV-related injuries and reduce the suffering and costs associated with skin cancer – including reduced productivity, morale and financial returns.
Under Western Australian workplace health and safety legislation, employers or PCBU (person conducting business or undertaking) must take steps to protect workers from harmful levels of exposure to UV radiation, and reduce the risk of skin cancer.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies ultraviolet (UV) radiation as a Group 1 Carcinogen, which means it's known to cause cancer in humans. This is the same risk category as asbestos and tobacco.
To meet legal obligations, employers should address UV radiation as a workplace hazard and implement control measures to minimise exposure.
Cancer Council recommends workplaces have a comprehensive sun protection program in place that includes:
- sun protection control measures-the introduction and maintenance of protective measures in line with workplace hazard controls
- training workers to work safely in the sun-the provision of information, instruction, training and
- supervision for workers
- risk assessments-periodic assessment of the UV exposure risk to all workers
- sun protection policy-documentation of the program, including control measures, in a written policy
- monitoring program effectiveness-a process to determine the effectiveness of control measures and identify changes that may further reduce exposure.
All employers must protect workers by providing a safe working environment that is free of health risks. This includes taking proper steps to reduce overexposure to UV radiation for workers who spend all or part of their time working outdoors.
Workers also have a duty to take care of their own health and safety and must cooperate with employers' efforts to improve health and safety in the workplace.
If you work outdoors and your workplace doesn't offer any sun protection measures, raise the issue with your Health and Safety representative or manager.
For more information on how you can protect yourself, see our Work outdoors? Use sun protection every day brochure, on our publications page.
Information for self-employed outdoor workers
If self-employed, it's in your best interest to look after yourself (and any staff or volunteers) and use sun protection at work.
To help self-employed outdoor workers stay safe in the sun, the UV Daily website is your one-stop-shop and provides:
- Risk assessment tools
- Steps to take action
- Case studies, blog articles & videos
Cancer Council WA has worked in collaboration with AVELING to develop an online ‘UV and Heat Awareness' training course. This course is designed for outdoor workers and covers:
- Understanding UV and Heat Exposure
- Health Effects and Hazards of UV and Heat
- First Aid and Treatment for UV and Heat
Cancer Council WA encourages outdoor workers to complete the course.
The Australian Taxation Office allows the cost of work-related sun protective clothing to be claimed as an expense for many outdoor workers. Talk to your tax advisor or the Australian Taxation Office on 13 28 61 or visit the Australian Taxation Office website.
Cancer Council WA can assist workplaces by providing:
- Sun protection workplace talks
- UV awareness online training
- Best practice information and resources for employers and workers
- Policy review or development. See our sample workplace UV policy here.
- Outdoor worker blog articles
For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (08) 9212 4333
UV and heat
Heat illness covers a range of medical conditions including heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps and skin rashes. Signs and symptoms of heat illness include nausea, dizziness, clumsiness, collapse and convulsions. If left untreated, heat illness can be fatal. Refer to Safe Work Australia's guide for managing the risks of working in heat.
While exposure to UV radiation and heat illness are separate work hazards, the effect of heat must be considered when implementing a sun protection program for the following reasons:
- Working in hot conditions may contribute to noncompliance with sun protection measures. The use of personal protective equipment and clothing may decline due to heat discomfort.
- Inappropriately designed and heavy clothing worn for sun protection can contribute to a worker's risk of heat illness and reluctance to wear it. Select material and a design that provides sun protection while keeping workers cool in hot conditions. For more information visit: