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Shining a light on sun safety in the workplace

Patrick Boshell
May 29, 2018



Before heading to the beach or the pool, you likely consider items to bring to protect you from the sun. But what about when you’re heading to work? Skin cancer is by far the most common form of cancer and too much exposure to Ultraviolet (UV) radiation increases the risk of skin cancer. Outdoor workers naturally spend more time exposed to UV radiation, putting them at greater risk of sun damage and the potential of developing skin cancers. Despite this, the dangers of skin cancer in the workplace have often been neglected.


Employers have an obligation to minimize the risk of harm to employees. Providing and encouraging sun protection for outdoor workers can help create a healthy and safe workplace. About 132,000 new cases of melanoma are diagnosed worldwide each year, according to the World Health Organization[1]. Treatment of skin cancers in the U.S is estimated at a cost of $8.1 billion per year. According to the Canadian Skin Cancer Foundation, the average melanoma patients lose 28 days from work[1].


Practice the Five S’s


Most skin cancers are preventable when best practice is followed. Consider the five S’s when it comes to protecting workers from UV exposure.




  1. Slip on sun protective clothing: Clothing can be one of the most effective barriers between our skin and the sun because it absorbs or blocks much of the UV radiation. It’s important for clothing to cover as much skin as possible. Certain areas, such as shoulder, can easily burn, so always keep them covered. Additionally, a fabric with closer weave will provide more protection. There are also Sun Protection Factor SPF-rated fabrics that provide protection from the sun. For example, a shirt with a UPF of 50 allows just 1/50th of the sun’s UV radiation to reach the skin.


  1. Slop on sunscreen. Your sunscreen should be a minimum of SPF 30 or above and preferably water resistant. It should also cover all bases, protecting against harmful UV-A and UV-B rays as well as the artificial UV-C rays created by industrial processes such as welding. Occupational sunscreens are available that can be quickly and easily absorbed as to not affect dexterity with hand held tools. Perfume-free options also help reduce the potential for allergic reaction and skin irritation.


Sunscreen should be applied to exposed skin 20 minutes before going outdoors. Reapplication is crucial too; it is recommended that sunscreen be reapplied liberally every two to three hours.


  1. Slap on a hat. Hats with a wide brim covers places that are difficult to apply sunscreen, including the scalp and ears. A hat also provides additional protection for the face and neck. You should also consider hats made with SPF materials.


  1. Slide on quality sunglasses. UV radiation from the sun can damage not only the skin of your eyelid but also the cornea, lens and other parts of the eye. To protect your eyes, look for sunglasses that block 99 to 100 percent of both UVA and UVB rays, and screen out 75 to 90 percent of visible light. It’s important to note that the color and degree of darkness sunglasses provide have nothing to do with the sunglasses' ability to block UV rays. You can also opt for wraparound sunglasses or close-fitting sunglasses with wide lenses that protect your eyes from every angle. Although some contact lenses also offer UV protection, they should be worn in combination with sunglasses to maximize protection.


  1. Shade from the sun whenever possible. Shade can provide a good barrier between our skin and the sun, so it’s crucial to seek shade whenever possible, particularly at the hottest times of the day between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. when UV penetration is strongest. Some outside jobs can be done inside or in a shaded area. If not, consider erecting a temporary shelter for protection. You can also reorganize the schedule so that outside tasks can be completed in the morning before 11 a.m. or after 3 p.m. Even if you’re working in the shade, you should still use other personal protection measures, such as sunscreen.


Take a look at our video on protecting outdoor workers from harmful UV rays:



Beat the heat: Implement sun safety measures


In Canada the Labour Code states that every employer shall ensure that the health and safety at work of every person employed by the employer is protection. Addressing sun safety is an essential part of this. The Canada Occupational Health and Safety Regulations are governed by the Labour Code and state the employers must provide skin protection to their employees: Skin Protection 12.9.


When it comes to health in the workplace, prevention is far better than cure. The most effective way for employers to protect employees from contracting skin cancer is to provide sun safety measures in the workplace. Implementing a comprehensive sun protection program, which includes a range of simple protective measures, can prevent sun-related injuries and reduce the suffering and costs associated with skin cancer – including reduced productivity.


As part of its Be UV Aware campaign, Deb offers tools to help employers implement a suitable and successful sun safety policy to protect its workers.


Stay Sun Safe






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