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.
Cancer Council WA can assist your workplace to provide employees with SunSmart work environments, particularly if they are outdoor workers.
- Why are SunSmart work environments important?
- Information for employers
- Information for employees
- How can Cancer Council WA help?
- Heat stress
Outdoor workers are exposed to high levels of direct sunlight over long periods of time, generally receiving five to 10 times more UV exposure per year than indoor workers. Therefore, outdoor workers are at an increased risk of skin cancer and other health issues related to excess UV radiation. It is estimated that around 200 melanomas and 34,000 non melanoma skin cancers per year are caused by occupational exposures in Australia.
The National Hazard Exposure Worker Surveillance: Report on exposure to direct sunlight and the provision of sun exposure controls in Australian workplaces (pdf, 343kb) highlights sun exposure as the most common cause of compensated cancer claims during the three years from 2001 to 2003 (22%), with compensated skin cancer claims more than doubling in the five years up to 2004.
Implementing a comprehensive sun protection program, which includes a range of simple protective measures, can prevent sun-related injuries and reduce the suffering and costs associated with skin cancer – including reduced productivity, morale and financial returns.
Under Australian occupational health and safety legislation, employers should be taking steps to protect employees from ongoing exposure to solar UV radiation that can lead to skin cancer.
SunSmart policy development
A sun protection policy is a written document that records why and how the solar UVR risk is to be managed by your workplace.
A workplace sun protection policy is just as important for office workers who participate in lunch time walking groups, team sports or corporate athletic events held on weekends, as it is for outdoor workers. The policy should also cover any outdoor activities held by the organisation during the day. For more information view our sample workplace sun protection policy (pdf, 90kb). Cancer Council WA can assist workplaces to review their existing sun protection policy or develop a new policy. For more information contact our SunSmart Workplace Coordinator on (08) 9388 4360.
Reducing your risk
Sun protection is required when UV reaches 3 or above. To find your local UV forecast, including the times of day sun protection is required, visit www.myUV.com.au.
Shade often provides good protection from the sun and it can be easy for people to use. When used in conjunction with other protective measures such as sun-protective clothing, hats, sunglasses and sunscreen, shade can be a particularly effective method to protect against UV radiation.
Cancer Council WA has developed The Shade Handbook to provide workplaces with useful information on how to build worksite shade structures and/or provide portable shade for outdoor workers. This detailed 38-page resource includes supplementary materials to help develop shade for a range of environments. The Shade Handbook can be downloaded from from our publications page.
Health and safety legislation in each Australian state means your employer has a legal responsibility to provide a safe working environment. 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. This legislation also states that as an employee, you must cooperate with your workplace’s sun protection program, so be sure to cover up against the sun. If self-employed, it’s in your best interest to look after yourself and use sun protection at work.
For more information on how you can protect yourself, see our Skin cancer and outdoor work: A guide for working safely in the sun brochure, on our publications page.
Cancer Council WA has worked with Aveling to develop an online 'UV and Heat Awareness' training course. Cancer Council WA encourages outdoor workers to complete the course.
Cancer Council WA, with support from the WA Department of Health and WorkSafe WA, has developed a series of SunSmart resources for outdoor workers and employers. View our range of workplace resources on our publications page.
Workplace education sessions for outdoor workers are also offered to supplement the printed resources. View our range of education sessions.
For more information, please contact our SunSmart Workplace Coordinator on (08) 9388 4360 or email us.
Heat stress may affect people in all parts of Western Australia during our summer months and may affect workers at some workplaces throughout the year. The effects of heat stress range from discomfort to life threatening illnesses such as heat stroke. The Commission for Occupational Safety and Health and WorkSafe have released a heat stress kit reminding employers that they are required to minimise the risks associated with hot work.