Sun Safety Tips for Outdoor Workers

Overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation poses a real risk to the health of outdoor workers, who spend more time in the sun than those in other lines of work. In fact, these workers are exposed to between five and ten times more UV radiation from the sun than everyone else. Solar UV radiation is a hazard when working directly in the sun, and exposure can be made worse when reflected off certain surfaces and materials.

Australians are well-versed in the harmful effects of the sun, given that solar UV radiation can be at hazardous levels all year-round in some parts of the country, not only in summer.  It can have short-term negative effects on the body such as causing discomfort, sunburn and dehydration. It can also lead to much more debilitating illnesses such as skin cancer, immunosuppression and skin ageing, as well as other permanent and irreversible damage to the skin and eyes.

Too much exposure to sunlight has significant implications for worker health and safety, affecting their performance as well as their wellbeing. That’s why it is important for employers to do what they can to protect outdoor workers from UV-related harm, by providing a safe working environment that mitigates the impacts of intensive sunlight exposure.

Eliminating exposure of UV radiation is of course the best protection, but where this is not possible, employers can implement a sun protection plan that includes the following measures:

Sun protection hats – Just like other items of personal protective equipment, a sun protection hat is an effective barrier against harmful rays and a practical way to improve sun safety for outdoor workers. The hat should be wide-brimmed for ample coverage and typically made of lightweight material, making them comfortable to wear throughout the day. When selecting hats, consider those that are made from cotton or polyester.

Polarised safety glasses – The heat, light and glare produced by the sun – and any reflections – can negatively impact the eyes, potentially inducing headaches or resulting in solar retinopathy and macular degeneration. Workers who are constantly exposed to sunlight require safety glasses to protect their vision. Glasses must have polarised lenses to protect against UV, filter glare and enhance contrast to ensure work performance is not hindered. They should also ideally be close-fitting, wraparound glasses.

Sunscreen lotion with Sun Protection Factor (SPF) – Workers should be advised to use sunscreen lotion, and reapply it often, to protect any skin exposed to the sun for extended periods. The Cancer Council of Australia recommends the use of sunblock with a sun protection factor of 30, and this should ideally be made available to workers on-site. Sunscreen lotion that also has vitamin E in addition to SPF will provide better protection.

Drinking water – Dehydration is a physical state that is commonly associated with overexposure to sunlight and heat. To keep outdoor workers from becoming dehydrated, an employer should ensure there is access to water drinking stations on a worksite. Water breaks should also be encouraged from time to time, so that hydration levels remain safe and constant throughout the workday.

Cool, shaded areas – Workers operating in outdoor, open-air worksites must always have access to an area that is cool and shaded. This area can be used by workers during lunchtime or when taking breaks, to minimise sun exposure when it is not necessary. Shaded areas help to keep body temperatures at manageable levels as well as providing a location for respite from the heat of the sun.

Lip balm with SPF – The lips can be a sensitive area of the face, and just like skin, require protection against harsh UV radiation. The lips are also prone to becoming dehydrated, which happens more readily if overexposed to sun. Using a lip balm that has a SPF of 30 and above and which is water resistant will provide sun protection as well as hydration.

Ensuring sun safety outdoors is vital to maintaining outdoor workers’ optimum health and their capacity to work in environments where there is greater exposure to the elements. Consider implementing these simply sun safety tips to protect your outdoor workers, and explore plenty of other health and safety advice on the Bodycare website.




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