What are the risks?
Australians have become better and better at protecting themselves from the sun while stepping outside on a sunny Sunday morning, however, many overlook the importance of sun protection in the workplace, where we spend the majority of our time.
Skin cancer is one of Australia’s most common diseases and in 95% of cases is almost entirely preventable with the right sun protection. A great place to start this is in the workplace, where most people spend eight hours a day. Every year in Australia around 200 melanomas and 34,000 non-melanoma skin cancers are caused due to occupational exposure to the sun.
While the risk of outdoor workers is double that of indoor workers, indoor workers can still be at risk, particularly if they work next to large untinted windows which allow unfiltered light to enter the building. Employers also have an obligation to protect their workers under health and safety legislation, which includes a safe working environment that takes into account how workers will be protected from the sun. Between the year 2000 and 2012, up to $63 million dollars were made in compensation payments for sun related illness or injury.
What to do to protect yourself in the workplace
If you know that you will be exposed to the sun during your working day, you should plan accordingly and ensure that you are properly protected. You can do this by:
- Wearing protective clothing. Wear clothing that has a UPF rating of 50+ and offers as much skin coverage as possible.
- Using SPF30+ sunscreen. Use SPF30+ sunscreen and reapply every two hours.
- Putting on a wide brimmed hat. A wide brimmed hat will protect your head face and neck and work well in conjunction to sunscreen.
- Using sunglasses. Use sunglasses that are designed to protect against UV radiation to protect your eyes.
- Seeking shade. If possible try to take your lunch break when the sun is at its most intense and seek some shade, to give your body some relief from the midday sun.
What to do if you are an employer
- If you are an employer you have an obligation to take care of the health and safety of your employees in the workplace. Some of the ways that you can help reduce their risk of sun damage are:
- Provide shade. Shade can be natural such as tree canopies or it can be erected artificially, to provide your workers with the shade that they need throughout the day. If it is not possible to provide this while they work, then it should at least be provided when they take breaks.
- Consider tinting your windows. If you are an office or indoor workplace, seriously consider tinting your windows, as this can reduce the amount of UV light your employees are exposed to and reduce their risk significantly during the day.
- Encourage or provide protective clothing. Protective clothing is one of the most effective ways of blocking out the sun, these include long sleeved shirts and pants, hats and sunglasses with UV protection. Look for clothing with a UPF rating of 50 or more.
- Make the right administrative choices. There are many choices that you can make to reduce the risk your employees are exposed to, like scheduling work earlier in the morning or later in the afternoon if you will be working in direct sunlight.
- Educate your workers. Finally, perhaps the best action you can take is educate your workers on how to protect themselves. By making sun protection a priority in the workplace and creating a workplace training program for sun protection you can help protect them not just on the job but also at home with their families.