By Thomas Tenkate
Exposure to the sun is a significantly under recognized workplace hazard. Both ultraviolet (UV) radiation and heat from the sun can cause serious health issues for anyone working outside. This includes skin cancer, heat stress and a range of eye conditions. Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Canada, with sun exposure causing more than four times the number of cancers caused by tobacco and 10 times the number of cancers caused by alcohol each year.
In an occupational setting, sun exposure causes more cases of cancer each year than does exposure to asbestos, diesel engine exhaust and crystalline silica combined. This is because there are a large number of workers exposed to the sun, they tend to be exposed to very high levels, and they are generally not well protected. The good news is that skin cancer and heat stress are relatively easy to prevent if the right measures are taken. However, employers report that it is difficult to implement effective sun safety for their workers. Safety professionals can pass along the following tips to their workers from Sun Safety at Work to help them stay safe in the sun.
To protect from UV from the sun:
•Cover up: Wear loose clothing, long sleeves and pants
•Protect the eyes: Use UV protective eyewear
•Cover the head, neck and ears: Wear a wide brimmed hat, hard hat with a brim and use a neck flap
•Take breaks in the shade: Get out of the sun when possible, especially between 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. when UV is the strongest
•Use sunscreen and lip balm: Use at least an SPF 30 broad spectrum, water resistant sunscreen and don’t forget to reapply
•Be skin safe: Report changes in skin spots and moles to a doctor as soon as possible — early detection is important.
To protect from heat from the sun:
•Know the signs and symptoms of heat stress
•Watch out for symptoms in yourself and others
•Wear sunscreen, a hat and lightweight, loose-fitting clothing
•Drink water often and avoid drinks with alcohol and caffeine
•Take breaks in the shade and more often on hot days
•Know how your workplace deals with heat stress.
Because sun safety in Canada is seasonal — the peak solar UV levels occur between June and August each year — spring is an important time in which to prepare for summer sun safety. Workplaces should therefore be ordering products and services (such as canopies for tractors, portable shade structures, personal protection including clothing, sunglasses, sunscreen and hats) in spring in order to have them in place for summer. Spring is also a good time to start sun safety training.
The bottom line is that despite outdoor workers having very high exposures to solar UV, it is possible for them to be effectively protected. However, this can only happen if a comprehensive sun safety program is implemented and planning commences well before summer arrives.
Thomas Tenkate is an associate professor and the director of the School of Occupational and Public Health at Ryerson University. He is the project lead for Sun Safety at Work Canada, a national project that is developing free heat and sun safety resources to help workplaces implement heat and sun safety programs for outdoor workers. The website presents a model sun safety program which employers can use to develop their own sun safety measures. Visit https://sunsafetyatwork.ca
for more information.