An alarming statistic recently brought to light an important issue for Australians, especially those exposed to the sun for extended hours such as construction workers. Australia has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world and construction workers are particularly vulnerable to sun exposure because they spend a significant amount of time outdoors.
It is important that workers and employers are aware of this hazard and attempt to minimise its damaging effects.
Sun protection is vital to fight the side effects of excessive sun exposure. According to the Cancer Council of Australia UV radiation is a known carcinogen and a huge cause of skin cancer in Australia.
Outdoor workers are under risk due to extended periods of time spent in the sun, throughout their working lives. Due to this sun exposure outdoor workers receive excessive amounts of UV radiation than they would if they worked indoors. They therefore have a higher chance of developing skin cancers.
According to Occupational Health and Safety regulations employers have a duty of care to provide and maintain safe working environments. UV radiation should be treated as seriously as any other workplace threat and employers need to ensure their employees can work safely without jeopardising their health.
Employees also have a responsibility to ensure they follow the procedures and guidelines provided to them, including UV protection policies.
Some of the steps that can be taken include minimising time spent working outdoors and exposed to the sun, providing and maintaining equipment needed to protect workers from the sun and providing information, instruction, training and supervision to reduce UV exposure.
Personal Protective Equipment ( known as PPE) is a vital requirement for workers that spend long hours outdoors.
An incentive for use of personal protective equipment (PPE) is that it is tax deductible. Since 2002 workers in a wide range of outdoor occupations have been able to claim the cost of sunglasses, hats and sunscreen as a tax deduction.
By spending hours in the sun daily, construction workers are exposed to the harmful ultraviolet radiation it emits which can affect people’s bodies adversely. Some of these effects cause damage to the skin, eyes and immune system.
Australia experiences some of the highest levels of solar UV radiation in the world due the proximity to the equator. Australia’s geographical position in the southern hemisphere, where the earth’s oval shaped orbit brings us closer to the sun in summer than countries in the northern hemisphere on similar latitudes. So particularly for Australians sun care is a major concern.
UV radiation causes painful and unsightly sunburn. According to statistics sunburn in SA, can occur within minutes and regardless of the seriousness of the burn at the time, it can cause permanent and irreversible damage to the skin. With this kind of skin damage, you can develop skin cancer later on in life.
Second degree skin burn is the most serious and can be identified by red skin and blisters. The most extreme sunburn is third degree and it requires immediate medical attention.
Another risk is that of developing solar keratosis. This is when the skin becomes dry, scaly and red, these are also referred to as sunspots. People who are prone to developing sun spots are prone to skin damage and should be particularly cautious to sun exposure.
Other effects of sun damage include wrinkles, pigmentation and an altered skin texture. Even on days when the sun is not shining brightly you can still be affected by its UV rays and may not even be aware as this harmful radiation is invisible and cannot be felt. Also UV rays are not related to temperature.
Picture : deir.qld.gov.au
So what are some practical measures to reduce sun exposure and sun damage?
- Seek the Shade: Take breaks in the shade. If there is no natural shade employers should provide temporary shade, such as awnings. The sun is the most harsh during the middle of the day, so attempt to work indoors at this time. If constant outdoor work cannot be avoided make sure to rotate shifts so that the same worker is not always exposed to the sun.
- Always wear sun protective clothing: Long pants and long sleeves will protect your skin from the sun, but these shouldn’t be tight, a loose fit will keep you cool.
- Wear a hat: The hat should protect the face, ears and neck.
- Wear sunglasses: This will protect your eyes and the sensitive area around them. Some safety work glasses provide sun protection but not all.
- Apply a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher: Sunscreen should be reapplied every 2 hours and a lip balm with sunscreen should be used to protect your lips.
If outdoor workers comply with these guidelines and any others provided by their employer, the extent of sun damage can be minimised.