Sun safety: on-site essentials

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The health risks associated with the harsh Australian sun are a constant focus of public health campaigns and news headlines.

A depleting ozone layer and consistently high UV index underscore the sun’s impact – it’s no surprise that Australia tops the list for incidence of skin cancer worldwide, with more than 750 000 people treated for the disease each year.

Long hours spent working in the sun can place you and your workers at risk, but for most employed in the building and construction industry, exposure to the sun is unavoidable. This means an active sun safety plan is essential at any construction workplace.

“For Australian workers sun protection should be a tool of the trade – it’s as important to workplace safety as shoes or high visibility clothing. Whether Australian workers are involved in building and construction, farming or outdoor retail, sun protection is vital,” according to the Chair of Cancer Council Australia’s National Skin Cancer Committee, Vanessa Rock.

Cancer Council research indicates, despite more than 2.5 million Australians spending a substantial part of their working day outdoors, only half of employees feel they have adequate safety measures in place at work.

Help keep your employees safe from the sun with these 5 easy-to-implement strategies:

1) Protective clothing

Not only key to occupational health and safety, suitable clothing is the first step toward minimising UV impact when spending lengthy time outdoors.

Select lightweight, breathable clothing with ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) 50+ designed to stay cool and cover as much exposed skin as possible.

Protective eyewear and a wide brimmed hat also help to avoid sunburn and add a much needed layer of protection from harmful UV rays.

2) Always provide access to sunscreen

Ensure good quality, SPF 30+, or higher, sunscreen is made available on-site. Educate and encourage employees to regularly apply sunscreen at 2 – 3 hour intervals throughout the day.

Regular application of sunscreen can minimise the impact of UV rays and lower the risk of skin cancer.

3) Plan the day ahead

Excessive heat exposure without adequate preparation can result in heat stroke, nausea, dizziness and dehydration.

Schedule the work day to keep time spent in direct sun at a minimum. Try to ensure jobs in highly sun-exposed areas are completed in the early morning or late afternoon, when the sun and temperature are at their lowest.

Create a shaded rest area on-site for staff to make use of throughout the day, including lunch breaks, and educate employees about the symptoms associated with over exposure to the sun. Encourage staff to take a break, drink plenty of water and move to the shade if they begin to experience these symptoms.

4) Keep plenty of water on-site

Hydration is extremely important when working outdoors. Provide easily accessible, cool drinking water and remind employees of the importance of staying hydrated by drinking at least 2 litres of water each day.

5) Provide free health checks

Organise regular skin cancer screenings and ensure staff are aware of the signs of sun related illness. Encourage them to take action if they feel they are experiencing any symptoms and ensure adequate first aid is available.

Visit Work Safe Victoria or the Cancer Council for further resources or information on sun protection.