Sun safety in the workplace
Sun protection resources for outdoor workers
Outdoor workers are at increased risk from skin cancer and damage to the eyes because they often spend long periods of time working outdoors year after year.
Australia has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world. Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun is the major cause of skin cancer and eye damage.
Cancer Council WA in consultation with WorkSafe has produced a range of information to help manage the risks associated with working in the sun.
What is UV radiation?
The sun produces many different types of radiation. One type of radiation is infrared radiation, which provides heat. Another type of radiation is ultraviolet (UV) radiation. We cannot see or feel UV radiation but overexposure can lead to sunburn, skin cancer and eye damage.
The UV Index is a rating system for the amount of UV radiation present in sunlight. When the UV Index is at 3 and above, the level of UV radiation in sunlight is strong enough to damage the skin. The Bureau of Meteorology issues a SunSmart UV Alert when the UV Index is forecast to reach 3 or above. The SunSmart UV Index is published in most daily newspapers and some radio and television weather reports. For a daily UV Index go to the Bureau of Meteorology's website.
Remember: Use sun protection between 10.00 am to 3.00 pm when UV Index levels reach their peak.
What damage can the sun do?
Prolonged and repeated sun exposure can result in the following:
- Skin and eye damage
- Keratoses or sunspots
- Premature ageing
- Skin pigmentation and discolouration
- Eye injuries and diseases
- Inflammation and irritation
- Cataracts - cloudiness of the eye lens
- Pterygium (tur-rig-i-um), an overgrowth of the white conjunctiva onto the cornea
- Cancer of the eye and of the skin surrounding the eyes
The three main types of skin cancer are:
- Basal cell carcinoma (BCC)
- Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)
BCCs and SCCs are the most common skin cancers. Although melanoma is less common, it is the most dangerous form of skin cancer.
Outdoor workers are more likely to develop the common skin cancers on areas such as the head, neck, ears, lips, shoulders, legs and arms.
For more information on the types of skin cancer visit Cancer Council's website
What are some common myths about the sun?
The wind may dry the skin but does not burn it. What is commonly described as windburn is most likely sunburn.
High levels of UV radiation only occur on hot days
Heat or high temperatures are not related to levels of UV radiation. Temperature relates to the amount of infrared radiation (not UV radiation) present in sunlight. We cannot feel or see UV radiation, so do not be fooled by cool temperatures as the UV can still be very high on a cool or cloudy day.
How can I check my skin for skin cancer?
Early detection of skin cancer is important as skin cancer can be cured if treated early. All Australian adults should regularly look at their skin for suspicious spots every three months or at the start of each season.
Outdoor workers should be encouraged to frequently check their skin for suspicious spots. It is important that workers know what their skin looks like normally so changes will be noticed.
Get to know your skin so that you know what is normal for you and what has changed.
How to check your skin
- Check your whole body including the soles of your feet, between your toes, underneath your armpits, ears, eyelids, under your fingernails and scalp
- Use a hand held mirror to check areas you cannot see such as your back, back of your neck and legs
- Look for a new spot or a spot that is different from the ones around it
- Look for a sore that does not heal
- Look for a spot or mole that has changed in size, shape or colour
See your doctor as soon as possible if you notice anything unusual.
How can I protect my skin?
Australia, particularly Western Australia, experiences high levels of UV radiation most of the year. Even on cool, cloudy days, UV radiation can be strong enough to damage the skin.
When working outdoors, the Cancer Council WA and WorkSafe recommend five simple steps to protect your skin and eyes against sun damage.
SEEK to reduce exposure to the sun's UV radiation
- Work and take breaks in the shade.
- Where no shade exists, use temporary portable shade.
- Plan to work indoors or in the shade during the middle of the day when UV levels are strongest.
- Plan to do outdoor work tasks early in the morning or later in the afternoon when UV levels are lower.
- Share outdoor tasks and rotate staff so the same person is not always out in the sun.
SLIP on sun-protective work clothing
- Cover as much skin as possible.
- Long pants and work shirts with a collar and long sleeves are best.
- Choose lightweight, lightly coloured material with a UPF 50+ rating.
- Choose loose fitting clothing to keep cool in the heat.
SLOP on SPF30+ sunscreen
- No sunscreen provides complete protection so never rely on sunscreen alone.
- Choose sunscreen that is broad spectrum and water resistant.
- Apply sunscreen generously to clean, dry skin 20 minutes before you go outdoors.
- Reapply every two hours or more often when sweating.
- Protect your lips with a SPF 30+ lip balm.
- Always check and follow the use by date on sunscreen.
SLAP on a hat
- A hat should shade your face, ears and neck.
- A broad brimmed styled hat should have at least a 7.5 cm brim.
- A bucket style hat should have a deep crown, angled brim of 6 cm and sit low on the head.
- Legionnaire style hats should have a flap that covers the neck and joins to the sides of the front peak.
- If wearing a hard hat or helmet use a brim attachment or use a legionnaire cover.
SLIDE on some sunglasses
- Wear close fitting, wrap around style sunglasses.
- When buying new sunglasses, check the swing tag to ensure they meet the Australian Standard (AS 1067:2003 - category 2, 3 or 4) and are safe for driving.
- Look for an EPF (eye protection factor) of 10.
- Safety glasses that meet AS/NZS 1337 still provide sun protection.
- Polarised lens reduce glare and make it easier to see on sunny days.
Remember to use these five steps together for the best protection
What can I do in my workplace to reduce exposure to UV radiation?
Health and safety legislation in each Australian state means your employer has a legal responsibility to provide a safe working environment.
If you work outdoors and your workplace does not offer any sun protection measures, raise the issue with your Health and Safety representative or manager.
This legislation also states that, as an employee you must cooperate with your workplace's sun protection program, so be sure to cover up against the sun.
If self-employed, it is in your best interest to look after yourself and use sun protection at work
Can I claim tax deductions for sun protection products?
If your job requires you to work outside tax deductions are available for sun protection products. Talk to your tax advisor or contact the Tax Office by calling 13 28 61 or visiting Australian Taxation Office's website.
Resources available on this subject
Codes of practice and guidance notes
- Code of practice: First aid facilities and services; Workplace amenities and facilities; Personal protective clothing and equipment
Cancer Council WA Resources
- Cancer Council Helpline 13 11 20
The following publications are available from the Cancer Council WA:
- Presentations: Skin cancer awareness, prevention and early detection for outdoor workers
- Skin cancer and outdoor work: A guide for employers [a 40 page booklet]
- Skin cancer and outdoor work: A guide for working safely in the sun [brochure]
- The Shade Handbook: A practical guide for shade development in WA
- SunSmart and the outdoor worker: Protect yourself in five easy ways [poster]
The information on this web page was prepared by Cancer Council Western Australia and WorkSafe.