People who work outdoors are vulnerable to the sun’s rays. Exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UV) can cause sunburn, premature skin aging, eye damage, and skin cancer. Skin cancer is the most common cancer in many workplaces and the rate continues to rise, yet it is one of the most preventable.
In the photo of today and infographic outlining ways, employers can support outdoor workers, including the development of a sun safety policy, and tips to reduce the risk when working outside.
WHAT IS SUN SAFETY?
If you or your employees work outdoors, you are exposed to the sun. The sun is a workplace hazard that causes the following:
- Health conditions of the skin and eye from over-exposure to solar ultraviolet (UV) radiation, including skin cancer, sunburn, and cataracts, among others.
- Heat stress caused by exposure to the sun
Sun safety is what workplaces do to manage sun exposure.
HOW DANGEROUS IS THE SUN FOR OUTDOOR WORKERS?
For outdoor workers, sun exposure is the primary source of skin cancer and heat stress. Outdoor workers are at a higher risk of both conditions. They often have more sun exposure than the workplace exposure limits.
Between 1.5 million and 5.4 million workers are exposed to the sun on the job. Of these workers, about 67% spend two or more working hours in the sun every workday.
Outdoor workers have up to 3.5 times greater risk of developing skin cancer than indoor workers. Eye damage from long-term exposure to the sun is also a concern, and heat stress is another major issue for outdoor workers.
The good news is that skin cancer, eye damage from the sun, and heat stress are preventable.
HOW CAN WORKPLACES AND WORKERS BE MORE SUN-SAFE?
Workers and workplaces both have a role in workplace sun safety. Workplaces can be more sun-safe by implementing a sun safety program. Workers can follow six simple steps to protect themselves from both solar UV radiation and heat from the sun.
Tips for Employers
The Federal and State Occupational Health and Safety Acts require all employers to put certain strategies in place to minimize sun exposure in the workplace. As a penalty, employers may provide workers’ compensation to workers who get skin cancer as a result of excessive sun exposure at work.
Employers can use these sun-safety strategies:
1. Redesign the Workplace.
This involves remodeling the workplace structure and work schedule to limit sun exposure. Ways to achieve these include
- Increase the amount of shade available, using cooling stations, shelters, or tents.
- Cover bright surfaces that reflect ultraviolet light.
- Encourage workers to move their tasks to shaded areas if possible.
- Rotate workers’ shifts to work at different times of the day or rotate between indoor and outdoor tasks, instead of performing outdoor tasks all day, every day.
- Create shaded outdoor areas for breaks in between outdoor tasks.
- Schedule tasks such as mowing to times when the sun’s UV radiation is minimal (such as early in the morning and late in the afternoon).
- Schedule indoor tasks for the times of the day when solar UV radiation is strongest, such as noon.
2. Create Sun Safety Policies and Training
One way of passing the message across to employers is to create a culture around it. Employers can incorporate sun safety information into workplace wellness programs. One way of doing this is organizing programs and seminars to teach employees about sun safety and the risks of exposure to ultraviolet light.
Information about sun safety may also be sent via e-mails, included in regular newsletters, or pasted on office notice boards. This keeps workers constantly aware of the risks of overexposure to the sun and what they need to do to minimize it.
3. Provide Personal Sun Protection
All outdoor workers should be provided with the appropriate personal protective equipment and ensure it is used appropriately
These include protective work clothing consisting of a long-sleeved shirt and long pants; hats that cover most parts of the head including the face, ears, and neck; sunglasses, and; broad-spectrum, SPF30+ water-resistant sunscreen.
Tips for Employees
To reduce sun exposure at work, employees can follow these simple rules:
1. Minimize exposure to sunlight at peak hours (between 10 am and 3 pm)
2. Wear protective clothing (clothing, a hat, and sunglasses). Clothing should have the following features that protect from UV radiation.
- Dark-colored fabrics such as reds, blues, and greens prevent penetration of UV radiation.
- Close weave fabrics.
- Long-sleeve shirts, a collar, and long pants.
- Fabrics with high ultraviolet protective factor (UPF) values.
- Hat with a broad base to shade both the face and the back of the neck.
- Glasses with a high eye protection factor (EPF). Sunglasses with EPF ratings of 9 and 10 (out of 10) are preferred.
3. Use Sunscreens
Sunscreens protect the skin from UV radiation, preventing skin cancer and early skin aging. You should choose sunscreens that are water-resistant, broad-spectrum (blocks both UVA and UVB), and have sun protective factor (SPF) of at least 30. Anything below these will compromise your skin’s protection.
How to Apply Sunscreens
- Apply thoroughly over clean, dry skin for at least 15 minutes before going outdoors. This is because it takes this long for the skin to completely absorb the sunscreen. Applying sunscreen while in the sun will not protect the skin from solar UV radiation.
- Apply sunscreen to all exposed skin, including your neck, face, ears, and all exposed parts of your feet and legs. Ask someone to help you apply it to areas that are hard to reach such as your back.
- If you have thinning hair, apply sunscreen to your scalp. You can also apply a lip balm that contains sunscreen with SPF 15+ to protect your lips.
- Reapply sunscreen after every two hours outdoors and immediately after swimming. Failing to reapply sunscreens defeats its purpose. Some people can get sunburned because of this.
- Remember to apply sunscreen every time you go outside. The risk of being exposed to UV radiation is always present during the day, even on cloudy days.
Sun safety should be a priority in all workplaces. The consequences of overexposure are too great to ignore. These sun-safety strategies need to be emphasized continuously. Doing this will not only maintain employee health but will also reduce organizational costs and help employers to retain their best talents.
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