Worksite Wellness

Sun Safety in the Workplace


The sun not only lights up our world, but it also lights up our bodies; it boosts serotonin levels in the brain, boosts calcium for strong bones and teeth, and lowers blood pressure levels. However, there’s a dark side to the rays of sunlight that fall on our bodies, and it is responsible for thousands of deaths yearly. 

Skin cancer may be the greatest threat to soaking up the sun as much as you may want. 

More than 9,500 people are diagnosed with skin cancer in the United States every year, with at least two people dying from it every hour. This includes both melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers. Non-melanoma skin cancers include basal cell cancer and squamous cell cancer. 

The burden of skin cancer in the United States is staggering as more people are diagnosed with it than all other types of cancer combined. 

Recent statistics reveal a 77 percent increase in the diagnosis and treatment of non-melanoma type skin cancers (basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma) between 1994 and 2014.

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer, with more than 4.3 million people diagnosed with it every year. On the other hand, more than 1 million people are diagnosed with squamous cell cancer each year, with up to 15,000 people dying of it each year in the United States. 

Melanoma may be the least common type of skin cancer- estimated to affect 192,310 people in the US in 2019 - but it is also fatal, with 7,230 estimated to die of it in 2019. 

One thing is common about all three cancers - the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) light. Solar UV radiation has been found to be carcinogenic and may cause skin cancers and premature aging upon excessive exposure. Both ultraviolet A and B have bneen implicated in its carcinogenicity. 

About 90 percent of nonmelanoma and melanoma skin cancers are linked with exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet radiation. 

This helps us rethink how much sunlight we may be exposing ourselves to. Since workers spend much of their day at work, a workplace redesign is needed to limit workers’ exposure to sunlight. 

This is  much needed for outdoor workers who may receive up to 10 times more exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet light than people who work indoors. 

Safe Sun Exposure in the Workplace

The complications of excessive sun exposure not only rob workers of their health and quality of life, but they also rob organizations of the best talents and cost them much more. 

Skin cancer treatment costs the US. about $8.1 million every year in treatment costs and $100 million in productivity loss every year.  

Fortunately, most skin cancers are preventable. Here are tips to help workers limit sun exposure. 

Tips for Employers

The Federal and State Occupational Health and Safety Acts require all employers to put certain strategies in place to minimize sun exposure in the workplace. As a penalty, employers may provide workers’ compensation to workers who get skin cancer as a result of excessive sun exposure at work.

Employers can use these sun-safety strategies:

1. Redesign the Workplace.

This involves remodeling the workplace structure and work schedule to limit sun exposure. Ways to achieve these include

  • Increase the amount of shade available, using cooling stations, shelters, or tents. 
  • Cover bright surfaces that reflect ultraviolet light. 
  • Encourage workers to move their tasks to shaded areas if possible. 
  • Rotate workers’ shifts to work at different times of the day or rotate between indoor and outdoor tasks, instead of performing outdoor tasks all day, every day.
  • Create shaded outdoor areas for breaks in between outdoor tasks.
  • Schedule tasks such as mowing to times when the sun’s UV radiation are minimal (such as early in the morning and late in the afternoon). 
  • Schedule indoor tasks for the times of the day when solar UV radiation is strongest, such as noon.  

2. Create Sun Safety Policies and Training

One way of passing the message across to employers is to create a culture around it. Employers can incorporate sun safety information into workplace wellness programs. One way of doing this is organizing programs and seminars to teach employees about sun safety and the risks of exposure to ultraviolet light. 

Information about sun safety may also be sent via e-mails, included in regular newsletters, or pasted on office notice boards. This keeps workers constantly aware of the risks of overexposure to the sun and what they need to do to minimize it.

3. Provide Personal Sun Protection

All outdoor workers should be provided with the appropriate personal protective equipment and ensure it is used appropriately 

These include protective work clothing consisting of a long-sleeved shirt and long pants; hats that cover most parts of the head including the face, ears, and neck; sunglasses, and; broad-spectrum, SPF30+ water-resistant sunscreen. 

Tips for Employees

To reduce sun exposure at work, employees can follow these simple rules:

1. Minimize exposure to sunlight at peak hours (between 10 am and 3 pm)

2. Wear protective clothing (clothing,  a hat, and sunglasses). Clothing should have the following features that protect from UV radiation. 

  • Dark-colored fabrics such as reds, blues, and greens that prevent penetration of UV radiation.
  • Close weave fabrics.
  • Long-sleeve shirts, a collar, and long pants. 
  • Fabrics with high ultraviolet protective factor (UPF) values. 
  • Hat with a broad base to shade both the face and the back of the neck. 
  • Glasses with a high eye protection factor (EPF).  Sunglasses with EPF ratings of 9 and 10 (out of 10) are preferred.

3. Use Sunscreens

Sunscreens protect the skin from UV radiation, preventing skin cancer and early skin aging. You should choose sunscreens that are water-resistant, broad-spectrum (blocks both UVA and UVB) and have sun protective factor (SPF) of at least 30. Anything below these will compromise your skin’s protection.

How to Apply Sunscreens

  • Apply thoroughly over clean, dry skin at least 15 minutes before going outdoors. This is because it takes this long for the skin to completely absorb the sunscreen. Applying sunscreen while in the sun will not protect the skin for solar UV radiation. 

  • Apply sunscreen to all exposed skin, including your neck, face, ears, and all exposed parts of your feet and legs. Ask someone to help you apply it on areas that are hard to reach such as your back.

  • If you have thinning hair, apply sunscreen to your scalp. You can also apply a lip balm that contains sunscreen with SPF 15+ to protect your lips.

  • Reapply sunscreen after every two hours outdoors and immediately after swimming. Failing to reapply sunscreens defeats its purpose. Some people can get sunburned because of this. 

  • Remember to apply sunscreen every time you go outside. The risk of being exposed to UV radiation is always present during the day, even on cloudy days. 

Sun safety should be a priority in all workplaces. The consequences of overexposure are too great to ignore. These sun-safety strategies need to be emphasized continuously. Doing this will not only maintain employee health, but it will also reduce organizational costs and help employers to retain their best talents. 

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