Heat Stress #4 UV Protection

UV Protection

Skin Cancer – Outdoor workers are at greater risk for developing skin cancer as a result of repeated exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet radiation (UVR). And, as the risk is cumulative – the more time spend unprotected in the sun, the higher the risk for eventual skin cancer – it’s being referred to by some as “the new asbestos.” Employers would be wise to take proactive measures to assure that their workers are protected against UVR, for the sake of their workers’ health and the financial continuity of their business.

Employer Responsibility – Most employers know that they’re legally responsible for the health and safety of their workers on the job. However, if unprotected workers develop skin cancer as a result of their required work outdoors, employers could be liable for costly workers’ compensation claims. If employers have not informed workers of the potential UVR risks and if they don’t insure that workers are using sunscreens and otherwise shielding themselves from the sun’s harmful UV rays, subsequent claims could become a major threat to the financial solvency of many companies.

Radiation – Sunlight is the main source of UV radiation known to damage the skin and to cause skin cancer. The amount of UVR exposure depends on the strength of the light, the length of exposure, and whether the skin is protected. Even on cloudy days, outdoor workers are at risk of overexposure from the sun’s UV rays. Clouds, wind or other weather conditions, and shiny or reflective surfaces like water or metal intensify the sun’s ability to burn the skin. UV rays are most intense when the sun is highest in the sky, generally between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. And, certain medications, such as antibiotics and retinoids, can increase the risk of sunburn.

Sun Protection – Employers need to think about protecting their workers from the potentially cancerous effects of working outdoors in the sun all day. Health risks from UV rays should be put at the top of health and safety training agendas. When possible, workers should be kept out of the sun during peak risk hours or provided shaded work areas. If workers must work outdoors, the day’s UV Index should be checked in the local newspaper, TV or radio news broadcasts so that appropriate protective measures will be taken. To minimize the risk of developing skin cancer from the sun’s UV rays, workers should:

Use a Sunscreen – Sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 can prevent the first signs of skin cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends applying sunscreen to all body surfaces not covered with hair, a hat or clothing about 20 minutes before going outside. Those who perspire heavily or who work around the water should use a waterproof sunscreen reapplied periodically.

Cover Exposed Areas – Wearing lightweight, tightly woven, but opaque clothing can shield exposed skin from harmful UV rays. A wide-brimmed hat or bandana will protect the head, face, ear tips, neck, temples, and lower face from direct sunlight.

Wear Sunglasses – UV-absorbent sunglasses help protect the eyes from sun damage, including the risk of cataracts and photokeratitis (inflammation of the cornea. A check of the glasses’ label should ensure they block 99 to 100 percent of the UVA and UVB radiation. This type of protection is particularly important if working around water.

Self Examination – Workers should periodically examine themselves for skin cancer warning signs including changes in size, color, surface characteristics, shape, outline or asymmetry of a mole or other pigmented skin spot and any bleeding or crusted sores that won’t heal. If skin changes are noticed, workers should be checked and treated by a doctor as early as possible.

Protecting those who work outdoors from the cancerous risk of UV radiation should be essential to employers in ensuring the health of the workers and the health of the companies that employ them. To assist in this UV Ray education, OSHA has issued an informative pocket guide. This guide also come in Spanish. Also in The guide describes the risk factors for and symptoms of skin cancer and suggests simple measures to protect again UV radiation.

* Don’t Let the Sun Burn You *