Summer is here, and although we love a sunburnt country, we certainly don’t love sunburnt skin. It’s important to understand the risk of prolonged sun exposure when working outdoors.
UV radiation is a major health and safety risk for Australian workers. It sits within the same Group 1 cancer risk category as asbestos and tobacco. Our UV radiation is amongst the highest in the world, and the biggest workers compensation claims related to cancer are for skin cancer. It’s predicted sun exposure in the workplace causes 200 melanomas and 34,000 other types of skin cancers diagnosed in Australia annually. Whilst these statistics are confronting, the good news is skin cancer is highly preventable.
At Labour Solutions Australia, we’re encouraging our workforce to exercise precautionary measures to ensure we all stay safe and sun smart this summer.
Here are some tips to reduce exposure and protect yourself at work…
Take breaks in the shade or inside whenever possible.
Drink enough water to stay hydrated and avoid heat-related illness. Even minor dehydration can affect physical and mental performance, which could potentially lead to an array of workplace hazards. Try to avoid sugary and caffeinated drinks, as they can make dehydration even worse.
Wear a wide-brim hat to protect your face and neck.
Wear breathable, loose-fitting, light-coloured clothing that covers your skin.
Apply SPF30 (or higher) broad-spectrum water-resistant sunscreen at least every two hours, particularly when heavily perspiring. Try a non-greasy sunscreen, so it doesn’t affect your ability to grip your tools or the steering wheel.
Keep your sunscreen in your lunch cooler to ensure it’s stored below the recommended 30°C degrees. Be mindful of expiration dates, which can reduce the sunscreens effectiveness.
Wear wrap-around sunglasses whenever possible to protect your eyes from sun damage.
Schedule work earlier in the morning to avoid peak UV periods. You can check for UV alerts in most Australian daily newspapers, or on the Bureau of Meteorology website at bom.gov.au/uv.
If you are feeling unwell and suspect you could have a heat-related illness, notify your superior immediately and see a Doctor or visit a hospital’s emergency department.
Keep in mind that not all UV radiation at work is obvious. Vehicle drivers are considered high-risk because although glass reduces UV radiation, it doesn’t block it entirely. This means sun damage can be significant, particularly on long journeys. Understand the times you’re at risk and take appropriate measures to protect yourself.
Look out for each other on the worksite. If you notice someone struggling in the heat, check in on them. Encourage co-workers to protect their skin and stay hydrated throughout the day.
Did you know that Australian outdoor workers receive up to 10 times more UV exposure compared to indoor workers? It’s not just a risk for summer, but a risk that occurs all year round. Make sure the habits you create to protect yourself this season, continue throughout the year.
Take care and stay safe this summer. Let's strive for safety together!