April 8, 2006
Employees face risks every workday. The operation of heavy equipment, electrical lines, chemicals, and even traffic can make a workplace hazardous. Yet one of the most consistent, insidious and dangerous occupational exposures that threatens outdoor workersâ€™ health goes largely unrecognized and uncombated â€” the sunâ€™s ultraviolet radiation (UVR).
UVR is the primary cause of skin cancer. Outdoor workers receive up to eight times more UVR exposure and have a 60 percent greater risk of developing skin cancer than indoor workers. Skin cancer is the fastest growing and most prevalent form of cancer in the U.S.
So what do you and your employees need to know to work safely under the sun?
1) Know your riskSun exposure at any age can cause skin cancer. According to OSHA, you need to be especially careful if you have:
You also need to consider the amount and intensity of the UVR you are exposed to daily. You need to be especially careful if you:
2) Ban the burnReducing sunburn is the single most preventable risk factor for skin cancer. Short periods of intense sun exposure are associated with a two-fold increase in melanoma risk. Also, itâ€™s possible to get sunburned on a cloudy day. Clouds block only 20-40 percent of UVR.
3) Take coverStaying out of the sun whenever possible is the most foolproof way to protect yourself. If no shade is available, bring portable shade with you to a jobsite. If you work or rest in a vehicle, window glass blocks UVB but not all UVA.
4) Cover upAs much as 85 percent of UVR can reflect off of sand, tile, cement and water, so shade cover may not be enough protection. Clothing can be an excellent sunscreen. Long-sleeved shirts with collars, long pants, shoes and socks provide more coverage than tank-tops, t-shirts, shorts and sandals. Fabrics with a tight weave between the threads block more UVR than loosely woven fabrics. Light-colored clothing feels cooler because it reflects infrared light (heat), but darker colors absorb harmful UVR better.
5) Wear a hatMore skin cancers occur on the head and face than any other place on the body. Tightly woven hats with a three-inch brim all the way around can help reduce sun exposure to the head, face and neck by as much as two-thirds.
6) Use sunscreenSunscreen is a valuable sun protection measure when used appropriately. Regular use of a broad-spectrum sunscreen is effective in preventing UVR-induced skin damage that may result in skin cancer. There are two major types of UVR that damage skin, UVB and UVA. All sunscreens protect against UVB, but only broad spectrum sunscreens protect against both UVB and UVA. To block UVA, look for avobenzone, oxybenzone, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide in the active ingredients. The active ingredients in sunscreen absorb, reflect or scatter the harmful rays of the sun.
Sunscreen provides protection for a limited amount of time, usually the number of minutes it normally takes your skin to redden multiplied by the SPF of the sunscreen (see Figure 1).
Ideally, a broad spectrum, high SPF sunscreen should be used in addition to wearing sun protective clothing. Reapply sunscreen every two hours. The reapplication of sunscreen only keeps up the protection of the first application; it doesnâ€™t give you extra or longer protection.