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Sun days: Keeping cool on the jobsite

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As we stand on the precipice of another long, hot summer in Australia, it’s of vital importance to maintain good sun safety habits as we live, work, and play outdoors. This is especially crucial for tradespeople working on construction sites. 

Outdoor workers in Australia receive up to ten times more sun exposure than those working indoor, placing them at an increased risk of skin damage and skin cancer. It is estimated that around 200 melanomas and 34,000 non-melanoma skin cancers per year are caused by occupational exposures in Australia.

Outdoor workers in Australia receive up to ten times more sun exposure than those working indoor. 

Jobsite spoke with two experts on sun safety to get their read on how construction workers can protect themselves against Australia’s savage heat on jobsites this summer.

Not So Fun in the Sun

According to Dr. Simon Blackwood, Head of Workplace Health and Safety Queensland, there are a number of hazards at construction sites that stem directly from heat and ultraviolet (UV) radiation.

“High temperatures can lead to heat stress and skin cancer if appropriate controls aren’t used. Working outdoors in the sun or in high humidity, or working strenuously so that the body heat rises, is a big risk,” he says.

Terry Slevin, Education & Research Director at Cancer Council Western Australia, agrees that sun exposure is one of the biggest risks for construction workers, and shares practical tips to help tradespeople protect themselves against the sun.

“If you work outdoors all the time, you should always use protective clothing including hats, sunglasses, and sunscreen, regardless of the UV index." 

“If you work outdoors all the time, you should always use protective clothing including hats, sunglasses, and sunscreen, regardless of the UV index. If you work outside occasionally, then you should use protection when the UV is 3 and above,” Slevin says.

Slevin shared a range of other handy hints and tips that may be overlooked when considering sun protection, but are nevertheless vitally important. 

They include:

  • Medium colours on clothing absorb more UV than lighter colours

  • Sunscreen should always be within its expiry date

  • Baseball caps provide adequate sun protection – always use a hat with a broad brim as they will give you the best protection

  • Plan to complete outdoor jobs early in the morning or later in the afternoon when solar UV levels are lower

  • When choosing sunglasses, the best protection comes from a larger frame that fits close to the face

  • Window tinting on vehicles is highly recommended as it can reduce UV radiation when the windows are wound up

  • Tax deductions are available for sun protection products if you are required to work outside

The Responsibility of Employers in Sun Protection

Both Slevin and Dr. Blackwood agree that employers have a duty of care to protect workers from risks associated with the sun, including heat stress and skin cancer.

“There is no workplace exposure standard or limit for heat stress,” says Dr. Blackwood. 

“Identifying and managing heat stress is not just about the air temperature. Assessing risks of heat-related illness requires accurate identification and assessment of workplace conditions, job requirements, and individual worker attributes.”

Slevin notes that employer’s duty of care, in the case of sun protection, is the protection of foreseeable harm. 

“The most common cause of compensated cancer claims between 2000 to 2009 was sun exposure, at 51 per cent of claims,” Slevin notes. “A total of 1,970 workers compensation claims for sun-related injury and disease have been made in Australia between 2000 and 2012, at a total cost of $63 million in compensation payments.”

“The most common cause of compensated cancer claims between 2000 to 2009 was sun exposure, at 51 per cent of claims.”  

Slevin urges construction workers to be proactive in their approach and to ask their employer to show them their company’s sun protection policy. 

“The policy should deal with both UV radiation and IR (heat) risks separately,” he says.

If you liked this article, here are a few more you may enjoy:

Don’t Forget Your Sunscreen!

How to Get a Handle on Heat Risks

Beating the Heat: A Refresher on the Dangers of Heat Illness

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