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One in two outdoor workers miss out on sun protection

New Cancer Council research released today (29/10) shows that some Australian workplaces are still neglecting their duty of care and failing to protect their employees from harmful UV, with around one in two workers who spend time outside missing out on sun protection.

The data, from Cancer Council's National Sun Protection Survey, is being released during National Safe Work Month (October) as a reminder to Australian employers to help protect their employees' skin to reduce their risk of skin cancer.

Chair of Cancer Council Australia's National Skin Cancer Committee, Vanessa Rock, said the number of Aussie workers spending long periods outdoors unprotected was 'alarming'.

"Over 2.5 million Australians spend half or more of their working time outdoors, yet only half of those working outdoors say their workplace has a sun protection policy in place. There has been a minimal increase in the 10 years since our first survey."

Ms Rock said that with estimates suggesting that 34,000 non-melanoma skin cancers and 200 melanomas each year were linked to the workplace each year**, it was vital workplaces helped their employees protected themselves in the sun.

"Australian workplaces have a duty of care to protect their employees for health and safety risks ? we know anecdotally that bigger businesses are getting the message and doing more to protect their employees in the sun, but based on this latest data, many employers aren't doing enough when it comes to UV protection."

Cancer Council's analysis shows that male outdoor Australian workers who spend five hours or more outside are most at risk, spending on average almost two hours (1hr 56mins) more a day outdoors than their female counterparts.

"Outdoor workers are exposed to UV for longer periods of time throughout their working life and therefore receive significantly more UV radiation than indoor workers," Ms Rock said.

"As a result, they have a much higher than average risk of developing skin cancers. Unless employers do more now, we can expect to see a continuing increase in workplace related skin cancer cases and an increasing number of workplace compensation claims. Employees should also take responsibility for their own health and make sure they protect themselves when working outdoors."

Cancer Council Australia advises that sun protection for outdoor workers is important year-round because of the additional UV exposure they receive. Providing portable shade wherever possible is also beneficial, but when outdoor work is unavoidable, providing protective clothing, sunscreen and broad brim hats are key.

Ms Rock said there were clearly gaps in current practice that Australian workplaces should address. "Our research shows only one in two outdoor workers were provided with sunscreen, and less than one in three portable shade. Two in five outdoor workers were provided with hats."

"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."

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The 2013-14 National Sun Protection Survey was conducted via phone over the summer of 2013-14. A total of 6,349 Australians were interviewed, including 5,288 adults aged 18-69. Conducted every three to four years by Cancer Council, the survey provides a perspective on changing trends in sun protection behaviours and rates of sunburn over the past decade. Employed adult participants were asked about the amount of time they spent working outside. Participants who worked at least some time outside in their job were also asked whether their workplace had a sun protection policy, and what sun protection items were provided.

*Population figures based on population estimates (for persons 18-69 years each survey year) from ABS publication 3101.0 - Australian Demographic Statistics, June 2014 and taking into account 70% of National Sun Survey respondents who indicated that they were in some type of full time or part time employment.

**Fritschi,L. and T.Driscoll, Cancer due to occupation in Australia. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 2006. 30(3):p.213-219


Table 1: Proportion of work time that employed adults spend outdoors

Table 2: Average time spent outside by workers who spend at least half of their work day outdoors

Table 3: Provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) as reported by employed adults ?

Media contact:

Cancer Council Australia - Hollie Jenkins 02 8063 4153, 0400 762 010 or

This page was last updated on: Wednesday, March 2, 2016