Sun (UV) protection in the workplace
UV Related position statements
Note: This statement is a summary of key sun protection information for workplaces. More detail can be found in the booklet ‘Skin cancer and outdoor work – A guide for employers’ or from your state or territory Cancer Council.
Sun protection programs that aim to reduce workplace exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation are important if skin cancer incidence and death rates are to be reduced.
Health and safety legislation in each Australian state and territory means employers (Persons Conducting Business Undertakings - PCBUs) have a legal responsibility and duty of care to provide (as far as reasonably practicable) a safe working environment. This includes having a responsibility to reduce the risk of occupationally related skin and eye disease among workers.
Workers also have a responsibility to care for their own health and safety.
Cancer Council Australia recommends that all workplaces that require employees to work outdoors for some or all of the day have a comprehensive sun protection program in place that includes:
- Periodic assessment of the UV radiation exposure risk to employees who work outdoors for all or part of the day.
- The introduction and maintenance of sun protective control measures. Such occupational hazard controls could include:
- Engineering controls such as providing shade and window tinting;
- Administrative controls such as rescheduling outdoor work tasks outside of peak UV times and using the UV Index (UVI) to inform workers when UV levels will be 3 and above; and
- Personal protective equipment (PPE) consisting of sun protective work clothing, sun protective hats, SPF 30 or higher sunscreen and wrap-around close fitting sunglasses.
- Providing education and training for all outdoor personnel to create awareness of:
- how to work safely in the sun;
- knowing their own skin; and
- the need to seek advice from a GP if they have any skin cancer concerns.
- Documenting sun protection control measures in a written policy. Employers and employees should work together to develop this policy, which should include a process to monitor compliance.
Exposure to UV radiation causes skin and eye damage and is also the main cause of skin cancer in Australia. UV radiation is carcinogenic to humans.
Employees who work outdoors for all or part of the day are at a greater risk of some skin cancers. All skin types can be damaged by exposure to UV radiation. Damage can be permanent and irreversible and increases with each exposure.
Sun protection programs that aim to reduce exposure to UV radiation are important if skin cancer incidence and death rates are to be reduced.
Sun protection programs in the workplace are important for the following reasons:
- Outdoor workers, both full-time and part-time, have a higher than average risk of basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) because they spend long periods of time working in the sun, all year round, over many years of working life.
- Indoor workers have a slightly higher than average risk of melanoma because they spend most of the week inside but are exposed to short bursts of intense sunlight on weekends and during holidays.
- Occupational Health and Safety legislation in each state/territory provides an established framework through which to implement sun protection programs and policy.
- The Radiation Protection Standard for Occupational Exposure to Ultraviolet Radiation 2006 encourages UV radiation exposures to be less than that required to cause sunburn. Outdoor workers without adequate protection may exceed the exposure limits set out in the standard.
- Preventing occupational disease is a national health and safety priority action area.
- Workplaces facilitate access to high-risk and difficult to reach groups.
- Workplaces offer opportunities to implement changes to workplace environments that have ongoing and long lasting effects.
- Failing to provide a safe working environment leaves employers open to litigation if skin cancer can be attributed to occupational exposure. In addition, absenteeism resulting from skin cancer can negatively impact both employers and employees.
About UV radiation
The UVI describes the strength of solar UV radiation at the Earth’s surface. The values of the index range from zero upward – the higher the index value, the greater the potential for damage to the skin and eye, and the less time it takes for harm to occur. Most skin types can be damaged at UV levels of 3 or above.
For information on the UV level in your area see:
- The SunSmart App for iOS and Android
Full-time outdoor workers and those who work in alpine regions and/or near highly reflective surfaces require sun protection regardless of the UV level to reduce their risk of occupationally related skin and eye disease.
Methods of sun protection
A combination of five sun protection behaviours should be used in the workplace.
Slip on sun protective clothing
Choose clothing that:
- covers as much skin as possible eg. shirts with long sleeves and high necks/collars; and
- is made from close weave materials such as cotton, polyester/cotton and linen.
Slop on SPF 30 or higher sunscreen
Sunscreen should be broad spectrum and water-resistant, and should be used in conjunction with other forms of protection. Apply sunscreen liberally to clean, dry skin at least 20 minutes before you go outside and reapply every two hours.
Slap on a hat
A broad-brimmed, legionnaire or bucket-style hat provides good protection for the face, nose, neck and ears. Caps and visors do not provide enough protection.
Whatever form of shade you use, make sure it casts a dark shadow and use other forms of protection to avoid reflected UV radiation from nearby surfaces.
Slide on some sunglasses
Sunglasses should be worn outside during daylight hours. Choose close-fitting wrap-around sunglasses that meet the Australian Standard AS 1067.
Occupational Health and Safety legislation, specific to each Australian state or territory, has a clear objective of preventing illness and injury at work.
All employers should protect employees by providing a safe working environment that is free from health risks. This includes taking proper steps to reduce the known health risks associated with occupational exposure to solar UVR for employees who work outdoors.
Employees also have a duty to take care of their own health and safety and cooperate with employers’ efforts to improve health and safety. To work safely in the sun, employees should follow workplace sun protection policies and practices, attend training and use supplied protective equipment as instructed.
Components of a workplace sun protection program
A risk assessment can be used to identify both employees who have a high risk of exposure to UV radiation as well as work situations where exposure occurs. The risk assessment should examine factors such as:
- The geographical location of the job
- The time of the year when outdoor work occurs
- The time of the day when outdoor work occurs
- The pattern and length of exposure
- The availability and use of sun protection control measures
- The presence of reflective surfaces
- The presence of photosensitising substances
- Extended vehicle usage
- The presence of artificial sources of UVR such as arc welding and ultraviolet lamps.
Sun protection control measures
Once the risk has been assessed employers, employees and employee representatives should work together to make changes to minimise risk. Strategies to reduce risk may include:
- Increasing the amount of shade provided and used in the workplace
- Modifying reflective surfaces
- Considering applying clear or tinted films to side windows of vehicles
- Rescheduling outdoor work programs
- Rotating employees so the same person is not always out in the sun at peak times
- Using the UV Index to inform workers of the level of risk from UV radiation
- Providing personal protection such as sun protective work clothing, sun protective hats, SPF 30 or higher sunscreen and sunglasses.
Employers should provide supervision to ensure correct use and compliance with control measures. Where monitoring reveals non-compliance, it should be managed using the organisation’s standard disciplinary procedures. When sun protection control measures have been implemented they should be monitored and reviewed at least every two years.
Sun protection policy and training
A sun protection policy should be developed to document why and how the UV radiation risk is to be managed by the workplace. This should include details of training and education to promote both the sun protection control measures and safe work practices required.
Health surveillance and skin cancer
Occupational health and safety legislation requires employers to monitor the health of employees. In regard to skin cancer, this involves encouraging employees to get to know their own skin and importantly talk to a GP if they have any questions or concerns.
To enable employees to effectively examine their own skin, employers should provide employees with appropriate self-examination information including:
- The importance of becoming familiar with how their skin normally looks
- Tips on how to examine their skin
- What to look for when examining their skin
- What to do if a suspicious spot is noticed.
This information can be found at:
Outdoor workers may be eligible to claim tax rebates on sun-protective Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and sunscreen.
For more information on how to claim, visit the Australian Taxation Office website at www.ato.gov.au or speak to a qualified tax accountant.
- International Agency for Research on Cancer. IARC monographs on the evaluation of carcinogenic risks to humans, volume 55. Solar and ultraviolet radiation. Lyon, France: IARC; 1992 Available from: http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Monographs/vol55/mono55.pdf.
- Bauer A, Diepgen TL, Schmitt J. Is occupational solar ultraviolet irradiation a relevant risk factor for basal cell carcinoma? A systematic review and meta-analysis of the epidemiological literature. Br J Dermatol 2011 Sep;165(3):612-25 Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21605109.
- Schmitt J, Seidler A, Diepgen TL, Bauer A. Occupational ultraviolet light exposure increases the risk for the development of cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Dermatol 2011 Feb;164(2):291-307 Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21054335.
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- Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency. Radiation protection standards: occupational exposure to ultraviolet radiation. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia; 2006 Dec 1. Report No.: Radiation Protection Series Publication No. 12. Available from: http://www.arpansa.gov.au/pubs/rps/rps12.pdf.
- Australian Safety and Compensation Council. Report on indicators for occupational disease. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia; 2006 Apr Available from: http://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/sites/SWA/about/Publications/Documents/214/Report_Indicators_for_Occupational_Disease_2006_PDF.pdf.
- World Health Organization, World Meteorological Organization, United Nations Environment Programme, International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection. Global solar UV index: a practical guide. Geneva, Switzerland: WHO; 2002 Available from: http://www.unep.org/pdf/Solar_Index_Guide.pdf.
- Safe Work Australia. Guide on exposure to solar ultraviolet radiation (UVR). Canberra: SWA; 2013 Available from: https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/system/files/documents/1702/guide-exposure-solar-ultraviolet-radiation.pdf.
- Sasaki H, Sakamoto Y, Schnider C, Fujita N, Hatsusaka N, Sliney DH, et al. UV-B exposure to the eye depending on solar altitude. Eye Contact Lens 2011 Jul;37(4):191-5 Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21670696.