Keeping Employees Who Work Outdoors Safe in the Sun

By Sarah Simmons | 06/12/2017

Blistering heat and scorching sun aren’t fun for anyone, but there are real dangers involved for employees who work outdoors and are exposed to these conditions for hours every day. Employers should be aware of the risks their employees face when working in hot summer weather, and should take steps to keep them safe

With some of the hottest temperatures coming up, it's the perfect time to learn more about the effects of getting too much sun. Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation in the sun’s rays is the main concern, as it can cause a number of serious health problems.  

Know the Dangers

  • Skin cancer: Most skin cancers are the direct result of UV radiation. The American Cancer Society estimates that each year in the United States, about 5.4 million basal and squamous cell skin cancers are diagnosed. An additional 76, 380 cases of melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer, will be diagnosed this year.  

  • Eye problems: Chronic exposure to UV radiation can lead to cataracts, macular degeneration, and ptergyium, a non-cancerous growth of the conjunctiva that can obstruct vision.     

  • Weakened immune system: UV radiation can suppress proper functioning of the body’s immune system and weaken the skin’s natural defenses.

What You Can Do

The risk of outdoor workers developing skin cancer or other sun-related illnesses may seem remote in comparison to other dangers posed by their everyday job duties. However, the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Act requires employers to do all they can to reduce the risk of harm to their employees, including harm from sun exposure. In some states, employees who get skin cancer as a result of sun exposure on the job can even be entitled to workers’ compensation from their employer. 

Here are five changes you can make at your worksite to keep employees sun safe:

1. Switch up the schedule.

If possible, try to schedule outdoor work shifts outside of the time when UV rays are strongest, which is from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

2. Take a break.

Schedule regular breaks. Make sure there’s a place for employees to get out of the sun and into the shade, like a tent, shelter, or cooling center.

3. Be aware of the environment.

Some surfaces, such as glass, water, sand, and snow, reflect UV rays and can intensify workers’ exposure to them. UV rays are also stronger at high altitudes. You may not be able to change these working conditions, but be aware that they pose an additional risk for UV exposure and increase protection accordingly. 

4. Plan for conditions.

The UV Index provides a forecast of UV levels in your area, and ranks the danger of exposure on a scale from low to extreme. Employers can use the UV Index to schedule outdoor shifts at times when danger of exposure is lowest, and employees can use it to determine which precautions to take when getting ready for work. There’s even a UV Index app that breaks down the hourly forecast.  

5. Educate your employees.

Use Sun Safety Month as an opportunity to add some information about sun protection to regular status or safety meetings. Give them tips on how to prevent overexposure to UV radiation: 

  • Sunscreen: Sunscreen comes in many forms, but whether it’s a gel, solid, spray, or lotion, outdoor workers should be using one regularly. They should use a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 and should reapply sunscreen about every two hours. Sunscreen will wear off as they work and sweat, even if it’s labeled water-resistant.

  • Protective clothing: Summer is the last time anyone is worried about bundling up, but keeping skin covered it a good way to protect from UV radiation. Long-sleeved shirts and long pants are best, and clothes made of tightly woven fabric and in darker colors are better at blocking out UV light. Outdoor workers should also wear a hat with a wide brim, or a shade cap with fabric that drapes from the sides and back and covers the neck.

  • Sunglasses: Workers should look for sunglasses that are specifically labeled as UV-blocking, in a wraparound style that will protect from rays coming from all directions.

Sun safety isn’t just an important topic for the summer months – outdoor workers can still be at risk of sun damage in colder months or milder climates. Keeping sun safety in mind throughout the year will lower the risk of sun damage for outdoor workers, and will guard against serious and costly consequences for employee health down the road.

Contact a Concentra work health expert for more tips on keeping your workforce safe, year-round.



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