Everyone knows of the long-heralded Sun Smart message to ‘slip, slop, slap.’ However, some still don’t realise that this message is also a major part of maintaining a healthy workplace for those who happen to perform work duties outside. Those especially at risk include construction workers, postal workers, police and traffic officers, farmers and other agricultural workers, road workers, surveyor and many others.
How the Sun Affects Our Health
The reason why the sun can be so harmful to our health is because of solar radiation that is carcinogenic to humans, where all skin types can be affected and become damage due to exposure from solar ultraviolet radiation (UVR). This damage is permanent and cannot be reversed, and each time the skin is exposed to the sun increases their risk of damage, and can take as little as 15 minutes in the sun for the skin to start to burn. The types of skin cancer that can result from prolonged exposure to UVR include melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and basal cell carcinoma (BCC).
Preventative Measures: What Employers and Employees Can Do
Employers are highly encouraged under Australian occupational health and safety laws to take steps to reduce the risk of sun exposure to employees and protect them from prolonged exposure to UVR. It also aims to prevent illness and injury in the workplace and must provide a safe working environment for all workers. All employers owe a duty of care and all employees must follow proper protection policies and procedures, as well as attend any training provided and follow instructions on being sun safe.
Employers can also ensure a Sun Smart working environment by rescheduling outdoor work times and to have employees wear protective gear such as sun hats and certain types of fabric that can help to reduce sun damage. Providing shade and modifying reflective services and tinting windows on vehicles can also help to reduce sun exposure. It is highly important that employers and workers also work together to implement a sun protection program that corresponds with occupational hazard controls that should also involve measures that reduce UVR exposure by making physical changes to the workplace, and administrative controls that involve changing work procedures and the way work is organised in order to reduce UVR exposure.
The Sun and Risk Assessment
Risk assessment is also an effective way in reducing the risk of UVR exposure by identifying employees who have a higher risk to UVR exposure and managing factors involving UVR exposure that affects working outdoors, such as the location and times of day jobs are performed outside.
The Sun Smart message is more important than ever as our environment continues to change. It only takes small measures in the workplace to reduce the major risk of sun exposure and disease. Employers and workers must work together to create and maintain them regularly to keep the workplace productive and safe. Just a few small changes are so much better than what the devastating alternatives could possibly be, and they can only happen if we work together to make a difference.