We’re pretty good in Australia about sun protection. If we’re heading to the beach or sending our kids off to sports carnivals, sunscreen, a hat and protective clothing are top of the list. But what about at work, or in a vehicle?
There’s plenty of good reasons to take sun protection just as seriously during our working day, particularly if you work outdoors or spend a substantial amount of time behind the wheel.
One very good reason is staying alive. By age 70, two-thirds of us will be diagnosed with skin cancer. But 95% of skin cancers can be prevented with good sun protection.
From an employer’s point of view, you’re legally obliged to ensure your people can work safely and without risk to their health; this includes exposure to UV radiation. If that’s not a good enough reason, not adding to the $63m sun exposure-related workers compensation claims cost employers from 2000-2012 might be.
And if staying alive isn’t enough incentive for employees, don’t forget you also have a responsibility for your own safety and health and must follow UV protection policies and use sun protective measures provided. For those who work outdoors, your risk of skin cancer increases by up to 10 times.
Myths and misconceptions
Despite years of SunSmart education, many myths and misconceptions still exist around sun protection. So, here’s a few things to keep in mind:
- Sun protection in vehicles: Ultraviolent (UV) radiation can penetrate glass and the average vehicle side window only blocks about 20 per cent of UV. SunSmart recommends installing UV protective window tinting or film where vehicles are used for work.
- Glare: While glare and UV are not the same thing, highly reflective surfaces, like a road, also reflect UV. So sunglasses are a good addition to the PPE toolkit, both for reducing UV exposure and preventing eye damage.
- Heat, temperature and UV: Heat tends to peak in the mid-afternoon but UV radiation peaks in the middle of the day, and, if you work outdoors, you need sun protection every day, regardless of temperature or cloud cover. Cloud won’t always block UV, sometimes it can increase it.
- It’s never too late: While the more time you spend in the sun, the more likely you are to develop skin cancer, it’s never too late to protect yourself from UV damage. Taking sun protection measures now will still reduce your risk of skin cancer.
So what do to?
Good sun protection measures at work include:
- providing and maintaining equipment needed to protect workers from the sun, including long-sleeved shirts with collar and long pants, sunscreen, sunglasses and a broad-brimmed hat
- reducing the amount of time workers spend in the sun or scheduling outdoor tasks outside peak UV, if possible
- having a sun protection policy, which includes education for workers and is ‘visible’ in the workplace.
SunSmart and most Cancer Councils can help organisations meet their sun protection duty of care by providing advice, training and resources for workplaces, including a sample SunSmart policy and best practice guide for employers.
NRSPP has also developed a suite of resources focused on sun protection at work – see nrspp.org.au