As we step into the middle of summer, employers need to be more wary than ever of the risks of working in the sun. It is much more dangerous than many think.
UV radiation is not only the leading cause of skin cancer in Australia, it is also a health and safety risk that you as an employer are legally liable for.
In late 2017, an Australian Defence Force worker was awarded compensation for melanoma that the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) found was attributed to sunburn he experienced from his intermittent work outdoors.
A skin cancer clinician who provided medical evidence in the case stated that most melanomas are induced by short, intense episodes of exposure to sunlight. So even if your staff work outdoors for only brief periods of time, this could still be found to be the cause of skin cancer.
But employers are still failing to manage this health and safety risk. In 2016, the Skin and Cancer Foundation found that 52% of outdoor workers were not provided with sunscreen. The same year, Safe Work Australia also found that only 8% of construction workers who spent more than four hours a day outside used all four main protections (i.e. sunscreen, hats, clothes covering arms and legs, and shade).
If your staff work outside, particularly during parts of the day when the solar UV radiation is the highest, you need to implement controls for this exposure.
- Eliminating the risk of exposure by moving the work indoors if practicable.
- Substituting or isolating the risk by moving the work to be performed at a time of day when there is no or little solar UVR exposure.
- Engineering a control such as building a sunshade.
- Implementing administrative controls such as rotating workers on the job to minimise exposure times.
- Where possible, ensuring work vehicles have window tinting applied.
- Removing or modifying any reflective surfaces in the workplace such as concrete, sand or painted white surfaces.
- Identifying and minimising contact with substances that are photosensitising (increase the damage UV rays can cause to the skin).
- Providing personal protective equipment (PPE) to workers who are required to remain working in areas with high exposure or extended exposure to solar UVR. As this is the lowest form of control, the abovementioned controls should be adopted first.
- Providing sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
- Training workers about the dangers of the sun and ensuring that they understand their own health and safety duty to be ‘sun smart’.