Outdoor workers exposed to sun

From Issue: 
Vol LIV No. 3, July 2010

What do sailors, surveyors, landscapers and postal carriers have in common? They all work outdoors and are regularly exposed to the sun for long periods of time. This puts them at a high risk for developing skin cancer, according to the Canadian Dermatology Association (CDA). Adding to the danger for outdoor workers is the fact that they are often in the sun when the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation is at its strongest, between 12 noon and 2 pm.

Who Is At Risk?

Anyone working outdoors who may be exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet radiation is at risk, including:

  • Agricultural workers
  • Farmers
  • Construction workers
  • Ranchers
  • Athletes
  • Fisherman
  • Landscapers
  • Police
  • Ski instructors
  • Lifeguards
  • Postal carriers
  • Sailors
  • Loggers
  • Surveyors

How To Reduce The Risk Of Skin Cancer From Sunlight

It is important to be aware of the risks and take precautions while under the sun from as early in life as possible. The good news is that skin cancer is largely preventable. You can protect yourself in these ways:

Reduce exposure to sunlight. Try to limit the amount of time you work outdoors in the sun, especially from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm when the sun’s rays are the most intense. Seek shade from buildings, trees, canopies, etc, as much as possible, especially during lunch and coffee breaks. Be aware that water, white sand, concrete, snow, and ice can reflect from around 10 per cent to 85 per cent of the sun’s ultraviolet radiation. Your skin may require extra protection against these indirect, reflected rays.

Wear protective clothing and sunglasses. Wear clothing that covers as much of your body as possible, made from fabrics which do not let light through. Not all clothing offers the same protection. For example, a white cotton T-shirt may have an SPF of seven while a long-sleeved denim shirt has an estimated SPF of 1700. Some fabrics like cotton lose about 50 per cent of their SPF rating when they get wet. For additional protection, wear wrap-around sunglasses that absorb UVA and UVB radiation, and a wide-brimmed hat. If you wear a construction helmet, attach a back flap to cover the back of your neck and a visor for the front of the face.

Use protective sunscreens. You should generously apply a broad spectrum (UVA and UVB protection) sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher to all areas of exposed skin, 20 minutes before working in the sun. Reapply it as directed by the manufacturer’s instructions (usually every two hours) or more often if you are perspiring heavily. Remember your lips and apply a broad spectrum, SPF 30 lip balm.

Sunscreens should be used in addition to, not instead of, working in shade and wearing suitable clothing, hats, and sunglasses. Sunscreens are not intended to extend the exposure time to sunlight, but rather to reduce the effects of sunlight when you have to be in the sun.

Examine your skin regularly for any unusual changes. The danger signs include any wound, sore, or patch of skin that won’t heal or constantly scales. Also examine for any growing lump, particularly if brown or bluish in colour. Get medical care for anything that looks suspicious rather than wait until the problem becomes untreatable.

Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety