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Sun exposure and UV radiation

Health risks of sun/UV

Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world.

People who work outdoors are exposed to more UV (ultra violet) radiation than indoor workers, and they have a higher than average risk of developing common skin cancers.

Luckily, skin cancer is almost entirely preventable.

Myths about sun protection

Some people mistakenly believe you can’t get sun damage on cloudy or cool days. But sun damage is caused by ultraviolet (UV) radiation, not temperature.

So sun damage is possible on a cool or overcast day, as UV radiation can penetrate some clouds, and may even be more intense due to reflection off the clouds. With sun exposure causing around 99% of non-melanoma skin cancers and 95% of melanomas in Australia, it pays to be careful no matter what the day looks or feels like.

Excessive exposure to the sun doesn’t just happen when deliberately seeking a tan (which we hope by now you know is not safe). In a high UV environment like Australia, we can be exposed to dangerous levels of UV radiation during all sorts of daily activities, such as working outdoors, gardening, walking the dog or having a picnic.

This sun exposure adds up over time, increasing the risk of skin cancer.

Legal responsibilities

If you’re a Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU), you have a duty of care to ensure their workers are safe from the hazard of sun exposure.

If you’re a worker, you have a responsibility for your own safety and health, and must follow UV protection policies and use sun protective measures provided.

Control measures

Control measures should include:

  • planning to work indoors or in the shade during the middle of the day when UV radiation levels are strongest; and planning to do outdoor work tasks early in the morning or later in the afternoon when UV radiation levels are lower
  • providing shade for breaks if it’s not available in the environment. Examples include tents, caravans, windbreaks or portable shade canopies
  • providing and maintaining personal protective equipment such as long pants, shirts with long sleeves and turn-up collars, and hats with broad brims or legionnaire-style flaps (you can get attachments for helmets and hard hats), and sunglasses that meet the appropriate Australian Standard
  • providing sunscreen of at least SPF 50 that is broad spectrum and water resistant
  • providing information, instruction and training in using these and any other control measures properly to reduce UV exposure.

Resources

Guide on exposure to solar UV radiation: Safe Work Australia (external link)

Skin cancer and outdoor work: A work health and safety guide : Cancer Council (external link)

Sun protection in the workplace: Cancer Council (external link)

Work outdoors? Use UV protection every day: Cancer Council (external link)

Updated: 17th December 2019