Are your workers protected from the sun?

We all know that solar ultraviolet (UV) radiation is the leading cause of skin cancer, with those working outdoors particularly at risk. What you may not know is that more than 90 per cent of outdoor Australian workers may be inadequately protected from harmful sun exposure.

This alarming statistic was a finding of the University of Western Australia’s Australian Work Exposures Study, which surveyed 5023 workers aged 18 to 65.

Almost 1200 of the respondents worked outdoors and were asked about their sun exposure in terms of total time, location and extent of protective measures, such as sunscreen and clothing.

While almost all of the workers said they used the sun protective measures provided, the level or scope of this varied widely and researchers concluded only around nine per cent could be considered as fully protected from UV radiation.

Age appeared to be a contributing factor, with workers under 35 found to be the least likely to use all four methods of sun protection – shelter (shade), sunscreen, protective clothing and hats.

Male workers were found to be the most common candidates for exposure, especially if living in lower socioeconomic or regional areas.

Here are a few tips to ensure that your workers aren’t exposed to dangerous levels of UV radiation:

  • Where possible, relocate outdoor work so it is done out of sun.
  • Provide screens, umbrellas, canopies or awnings over sections of the site to create shade where work is being carried out.
  • Where possible, start work on the shady side of the building, and follow the shade around the building as the day progresses.
  • Provide suitable sun-protective clothing, hats, sunglasses and sunscreen for workers.
  • Plan work routines so outdoor work tasks are done early in the morning or later in the afternoon when UV levels are lower.
  • Share outdoor tasks and rotate staff so the same person is not always out in the sun.
  • Make sure workers have access to cool water and that they drink lots of it. They should drink small amounts often, rather than large amounts every now and then. Remember – coffee, soft drinks and energy drinks do not count as water.
  • Provide regular breaks away from the sun in a clean, cool, well-ventilated (air conditioned where possible) area – eg shed or vehicle.

UV levels across NSW are high most of the year round. Workers can check UV levels in their local area using the SunSmart UV Alert available in the daily weather forecast of most newspapers, Cancer Council NSW website or as a free App for iPhone, iPad and Android. When UV levels are 3 and above sun protection should be used.

For more advice call us on 13 10 50.

The robot making life easier for Harbour Bridge workers

Some of Sydney’s most innovative thinkers – with a bit of help from a humble worm – have created a futuristic solution to an age-old problem, improving safety and winning awards in the process.

Like us, bridges have life expectancies. And just like our doctors, there are inspectors that assess the condition of the frames – inside and out – and determine what needs to be done to prolong life.

The Sydney Harbour Bridge, for example, only had a predicted life span of 100 years. As it nears its use-by date, preserving this national icon becomes more and more important, but at what cost?

Until now, the best way to examine the bridge interior was to send a bridge inspector in. With chambers smaller than one metre tall and port holes measuring half of that, providing a thorough check-up could be quite an ordeal.

To avoid putting the squeeze on their workers, Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) enlisted some expert assistance from University of Technology Sydney (UTS) engineers. The challenge was to create something small enough to fit in the cramped spaces, agile enough to move through the steel passages and smart enough to record data and provide an accurate assessment of the bridge’s condition.

The result is CROC, an autonomous robot that could have a significant impact on the way steel bridges and other tight spaces are inspected.

Through an extensive process of consultation, trials, workshops and robotic engineering, UTS and RMS found CROC’s inspiration in an unlikely hero – the tiny inchworm.

The robot consists of a flexible body with a magnetic ‘foot’ at each end, along with a sensor package equipped with a camera and scanning equipment. To top it all off a ‘brain’ handles environmental and situation awareness, 3D map building, motion planning, collision avoidance, negotiation with edges/corners/rivets and data collection.

Once carried into position (on an operator’s back, no less) and deployed, inspectors can monitor the high definition feed to assess the bridge’s condition in safety and comfort.

It’s a high-tech solution to an age-old problem; one that has scored both parties recognition at the recent SafeWork NSW Awards. Against stiff competition RMS and UTS made an impression on the judges and went home with the award for best solution to an identified workplace health and safety issue category.

More importantly, it’s an invention that has the potential to improve safety not only for our local bridge inspectors but for workers around the world. Any workplace that needs to inspect cramped metal environments could benefit, such as ship holds, power plants and transmission towers.

See CROC in action, or visit the UTS Centre for Autonomous Systems YouTube channel for other fascinating innovations.

If you’ve developed a solution to a workplace safety issue (no matter how simple – intelligent robots not necessary) check out the 2016 SafeWork NSW Awards, opening soon.

Small employers: know your responsibilities

Small businesses face a unique set of challenges when it comes to workplace injury, and this often results in unnecessary stress for the employer and potentially a longer recovery process for the worker.

So what is the best way to deal with a workplace injury?

First things first

If a worker is injured in your workplace, there are some things you, the employer, must do. These include:

  1. provide first aid and make sure your worker gets the care they need
  2. contact your insurer within 48 hours of the incident, notifying them of the injury
  3. record the incident in your register of injuries
  4. help your worker recover at work.

The first three steps can be completed in quick succession, but the fourth step is more involved. Don’t worry; these tips will help guide you through the workers compensation return to/recover at work process.

Know your role

The State Insurance Regulatory Authority (SIRA) oversees the NSW workers compensation system. It’s their job to make sure the system is fair, transparent and effective for the people it supports – that is, workers and employers like you.

SIRA has published a number of easy-to-understand guides to help employers and workers navigate the workers compensation process. The Workers compensation guide for employers is free and available on the SafeWork NSW website. When you know your employer rights and responsibilities you are better equipped to manage a workplace injury and the process will go smoothly. Of course, you can always contact SIRA and/or your insurer with any questions you may have.

Apply for assistance

You pay insurance premiums for a reason. Talk with your insurer and see if you can apply for assistance. Your insurer may offer special assistance to eligible small employers.

Assistance programs like this are good for everyone, helping you and your worker get back to business as usual.

Engage with your worker’s support team

Talk with your worker’s return to work support team. The insurer, nominated treating doctor and health professionals have experience and expertise you can use.

Find out which tasks your worker can perform, which ones they should avoid, whether workplace modifications might help, as well as any practical steps you can take to make their return to work easier and successful. Remember, these people are here to help you and your worker, so make the most of it.

Maintain a dialogue with your worker

Be sure to check in with your worker. Whether they are off work for a period of time or working modified duties, good communication ensures a healthy relationship and improved return to work outcomes. A weekly conversation means any concerns that arise can be identified and dealt with straight away so they don’t turn into problems.

Prevention is better than a cure

As an employer, you are responsible for the health and safety of your workers. By law you must:

  • talk to your workers to identify any potential hazards
  • put systems in place for the safe use and maintenance of equipment, plant and machinery
  • provide suitable information, instruction and supervision, especially to new workers
  • ensure there are adequate workplace facilities including toilets, drinking water, washing and eating facilities as well as first aid
  • record any workplace incidents in a register of injuries and respond to hazards quickly
  • prepare emergency plans
  • manage the risks of any remote and isolated work
  • have a return to work program to help injured workers with their recovery and return to work.

By meeting these requirements, you minimise the risk of workplace injury and are prepared should an incident occur.

Incentives for good workplace health and safety practices

Many insurers provide premium-based incentives to improve workplace health and safety, and return to work outcomes. Speak to your insurer to find out if and how you can take advantage of these incentives.

Learn more

Contact your insurer for specific information about your policy, and the programs and incentives available to you. You can learn more about NSW workers compensation and workplace health and safety at safework.nsw.gov.au or by calling 13 10 50.