With the approach of summer, it's easy to want to invite the sun in with open arms. We all know that we should wear sunscreen outdoors; it's something that we've heard a thousand times before. We sloth on sunscreen at the beach, when we jog or garden. But what about at work? Most people probably never think to apply sunscreen before or during work, yet the reality is, millions of people work outdoors for extended periods of time and are leaving their skin exposed to harmful UV rays.
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, Canada and the UK, with 3.5 million skin cancers diagnosed each year in the U.S.alone (Rogers, HW, Weinstock, MA, Harris, AR, et al. Incidence estimate of nonmelanoma skin cancer in the United States, 2006. Arch Dermatol 2010; 146(3):283-287). And, it's more prevalent than you might think, with each year more new cases of skin cancer than the combined incidence of cancers of the breast, prostate, lung and colon (American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures 2013).
1 out of 5 Americans will get skin cancer in their lifetime and outdoor workers have an even higher than average risk of skin cancer, due to the amount of time they spend in the sun as part of their occupation (Stern, RS. Prevalence of a history of skin cancer in 2007: results of an incidence-based model. Arch Dermatol 2010; 146(3):279-282). The cause and effect relationship is harder to see, but long-term exposure to the sun will cause skin damage and can be just as dangerous as any other workplace accident. It's just not immediate! That’s why it is important that the employer take responsibility to advise employees of the dangers of working in the sun now, to minimize their long-term risks.
Minimizing the risk of sun for outdoor workers
Industries that are the most at risk and where sun protection is crucial include construction, natural resources, horticultural and forestry, public sector, telecommunications, postal workers, maritime sector, and road workers. Outdoor workers may not realize that they are at a greater risk, and may not have the resources or training to know when or what to apply. Guidance and training should be provided by their manager, it's as important as learning when to wear safety shoes or eye protection on the job.
Here are a few guidelines that employers should follow:
• Include sun protection advice in routine health & safety training – make sure workers understand the risks of sun exposure – even on cloudy days and in the shade
• Include sun exposure as part of your hazard risk assessment
• Encourage workers to keep covered up in the summer months
• Encourage workers to take breaks in the shade, but do remind them that they still need to be protected in the shade
• Encourage workers to use sunscreen on unprotected areas of the body
• Ensure fresh drinking water is readily available and encourage workers to drink regularly to avoid dehydration
• Encourage workers to check their skin regularly and to seek medical advice if they find any unusual moles, spots or other changes to the skin
Part of the difficulty, is recognizing that real danger to exposure to the sun over a long period of time. Because it's always there, and because the consequences don't show up for years after exposure, it is not an obvious occupational hazard to managers, let alone employees.
Understanding Sunscreen Specifications
Having a good understanding of the protection tha sunscreens offer is important. Sunscreens of at least SPF 30 are recommended by the Canadian Dermatology Association (CDA), to protect against the sun’s ultraviolet B (UVB), or burning, rays. The product should also protect against ultraviolet A (UVA) rays which penetrate more deeply into skin and are responsible for premature ageing and contribute to the development of skin cancer. Look for sunscreens that are labelled, “broad-spectrum”.
Additionally, the daily UV index provides a clear indication of when outdoor workers need to protect themselves from the sun for their specific locations: based on guidelines issued by the World Health Organisation in 2003, protection from the sun is required as soon as the UV Index reaches 3.
Once you have chosen the proper sunscreen, to ensure workers are using it properly it needs to be communicated and implemented a part of a worker's daily safety regimen.
Here are some general guidelines on proper sunscreen protection:
• Use sun protection every day over the mid-year period (Easter to end August at least)
• Apply minimum factor 30 sunscreen with good quality UV protection to all exposed areas including the face, tops of /behind ears and arms
• Apply to clean, dry skin
• Apply 15 to 20 minutes before going outside and re-apply liberally every 2-3 hours, more frequently if perspiring
• Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration
"Adequate protection from the sun is as important as any other aspect of workplace Health & Safety," says Dr. John Hines, Research and Development Director of Deb Group. "At Deb we recognize that to be effective, sunscreens must not only be provided, but they must be properly used and of course they must be fit for purpose which means providing at least SPF 30 protection and being formulated to be pleasant to use, non-greasy and quick to rub in. Without these attributes, and without proper education, monitoring & feedback, we know that this vital protection may not be properly implemented with serious long-term consequences".
For more information, employers who have outdoor workers are encouraged to downlad the Sun Protection for Outdoor Workers Guide. The guide provides guidelines on how to minimize your outdoor worker's risk of sun exposure, including, how and when to apply sunscreen, when to take breaks and how to stay properly hydrated. It also provides an aid to early detection of skin cancer and when to seek medical advice. An educational poster is also included, that can be used to educate workers.
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