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.

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