Employers Failing Workers on Sun Exposure Risks

Most of us know that too much sun exposure can harm our health – but because this harm is not always visible, it’s hard to identify the damage until it’s too late. Over-exposure to solar ultraviolet (UV) radiation is a serious hazard for everyone, but particularly those who work outdoors.

So as the southern hemisphere enters the scorching summer months, authorities from both Australia and New Zealand are taking the time to remind employers of their obligations regarding sun exposure in the workplace. 

One in four outdoor workers in Australia
provided with no sun protection. 

outdoor workersThe Skin & Cancer Foundation of Australia are urging employers to wake up on sun safety, after new research found an ‘unacceptable’ number of organisations are failing to meet their responsibilities in protecting workers from sun exposure.

According to the report, nearly two million employees who work outside are not being provided with any form of sun protection by their employers, and are instead being “left to fend for themselves.”

The report found that 8 million Australian workers work outside sometimes, mostly, or all of the time. Alarmingly, 57% of these outdoor workers said their employers did not supply sunscreen, 66% did not supply protective clothing and 80% did not provide sunglasses. 

Of most concern, was that 28% of outdoor workers were provided no protection at all from their employers.

Skin & Cancer Foundation associate professor, Chris Baker, said the number of employees provided with little or no protection was simply “unacceptable”, and that employers needed to wake up. 

“It’s hard to know why they don’t see it as their responsibility as clearly there is a duty of care for employers to provide a safe workplace. While the numbers are improving, we still have a long way to go.” 

Andrew Farr, workplace law partner at PwC, said the careless attitude by many employers to sun protection was concerning, and that employers were potentially opening themselves up to hefty workers’ compensation claims down the road. 

“Given Australia’s robust Work Health and Safety standards and laws, I would hope to see more employers realising that it’s their responsibility to ensure that outdoor workers are protected from risk, and that includes sun damage and sunburn”

“Ideally, comprehensive sun protection would be provided to outdoor workers. It is important to stay compliant, minimise any liability to your business and do the right thing by your employees and their families. The technical definition of ‘comprehensive sun protection’ differs from state to state, so every employer should know their obligations to staff who work outdoors.”

New Zealand Sun Safety

WorkSafe New Zealand are also urging employers to make smarter sun safety choices. They’re reminding organisations that New Zealand has the highest rate of melanoma in the world, with an alarming 2000 people reported to the New Zealand cancer registry with melanoma every year – around six every day. And it’s proving deadly – each year over 300 New Zealanders die from the deadly skin cancer. 

outdoor workers

Outdoor workers can be exposed to harmful UV radiation while working, even after as little as 10 minutes. This can increase the risk of developing serious health conditions, such as skin cancer. These are risks both PCBUs and workers have a responsibility to manage.

WorkSafe say employers need to consider what higher-level control measures they can use to keep workers out of the sun. This may include re-scheduling outdoor tasks, moving work indoors, or providing shade structures. If that isn’t possible, they’re urging businesses to use lower-level control measures, such as providing protective clothing, hats and eyewear, and SPF 50+ sunscreen.

Fore more information, check out WorkSafe NZ’s new protecting workers from solar UV radiation quick guide.

Sun Safety Myths

Courtesy of WorkSafe NZ

Myth 1: When you can’t see or feel the sun, you are safe and can’t get burnt. 

False – UV radiation can’t be seen or felt. Sunlight or warmth from the sun is not the same as UV radiation. The radiation from the sun does not provide light that we can see, or heat that we can feel, so your skin can burn even if it feels cool.

Myth 2: Wearing PPE is an inconvenience and difficult to enforce with workers.

False – Wearing PPE or protective clothing can be an inconvenience if it is not the right fit for the job. However, choosing the right PPE and protective clothing for the job minimises inconvenience and discomfort.

Myth 3: Sunscreen provides enough protection on its own.

False – sunscreen is limited in the amount of protection it can provide and should not be the only form of sun protection. It must be applied correctly over all exposed areas and reapplied regularly as it wears off (especially after coming into contact with water).

Myth 4: I haven’t used sun protection before and it’s too late now to start. 

False – sun damage adds up, meaning the more we are exposed, the greater the risk. It is never too late to start protecting skin and eyes against UV radiation.

Myth 5: I have developed a gradual sun tan without burning so I am better protected from the sun.

False – a sun tan is an indicator that the skin is trying to protect itself from UV radiation exposure. It does this by creating more pigment which provides a very small SPF. While the sun tan is present, it provides a very small amount of protection from future sunburn. However, the cell damage caused by this process can be enough to cause skin cancer. Overall, the risk of being harmed outweighs the small and short-lived benefit of the sun tan.

Learn more about myosh

View this webinar to learn how software can help make a difference to your work health and safety.  Simple processes can help reduce risk, reduce costs and ensure all your workers get home safely.

myosh HSEQ Management Software – An Overview Webinar from myosh Safety Management Software on Vimeo.

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