Outdoor workers at greater risk of developing skin cancer

Outdoor workers are up to 3.5 times more likely than indoor workers to develop skin cancer

Outdoor workers are up to 3.5 times more likely than indoor workers to develop skin cancer.

With the number of outdoor workers at its peak during the summer, WorkSafeBC and Sun Safety at Work Canada have produced two new videos to call attention to the dangers of sun exposure and to promote preventative health and safety measures. To view the videos go to Sun Safety at Work: Workers and Sun Safety at Work: Employers.

Between 2011 and 2015 WorkSafeBC accepted six claims for malignant skin cancer caused by work-related sun exposure. The occupations in which workers are most at risk in B.C. are construction, agriculture, letter carriers, electricians and delivery and courier service drivers.

According to CAREX Canada, it is estimated that approximately 1.5 million Canadians are exposed to sun on the job. In 2015, 85,000 Canadians were diagnosed with skin cancer, and the rate is increasing. Sun exposure is the leading cause of skin cancer and can cause other health effects including sunburn, skin damage, cataracts, eye lesions, eye cancer, and heat-related illness.

“Every Canadian can benefit from reducing sun exposure, including Canadian workers,” says Al Johnson, Vice President, Prevention Services at WorkSafeBC. “Here in B.C., preventing skin cancer and other occupational diseases is a high priority. Employers and workers can protect against the sun by planning ahead and taking precautions on days with high ultraviolet levels.”

Under B.C.’s Occupational Health and Safety Regulation, employers of outdoor workers are required to conduct a sun exposure assessment to determine the level of risk to workers, and develop a sun exposure plan to effectively manage the risk, if one is identified.

“Many workplaces find it challenging to implement sun safety programs and protective measures — that’s where Sun Safety at Work Canada can help,” says Thomas Tenkate, Project Lead, Director and Associate Professor of the School of Occupational and Public Health at Ryerson University. “Over the past year, we’ve been working with five workplaces in B.C. and 16 workplaces across the country. The project’s ultimate goal is to create a program, resources, and tools to protect outdoor workers that would be sustainable for workplaces across Canada.”

Employers can take the following workplace precautions to reduce sun exposure to workers, particularly at this time of year when potential exposure is highest:

• Provide tents and shade structures on machinery and equipment

• Schedule the hardest physical tasks outside the hours of 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. when ultraviolet (UV) levels are highest

• Ensure work and rest cycles are scheduled regularly to allow workers to cool off in a shaded area

Outdoor workers can reduce their risk of skin cancer from sun exposure by:

• Wearing sunscreen and reapplying liberally throughout the day

• Wearing sunglasses, wide-brimmed hats, loose-fitting clothing made of cotton or silk

• Using a brim attachment and neck flap for hard hats, for added sun protection

• Drinking water frequently throughout the day

• Taking the Sun Safety at Work questionnaire

WorkSafeBC is an independent provincial statutory agency governed by a Board of Directors that serves 2.3 million workers and more than 225,000 registered employers. WorkSafeBC was born from the historic compromise between B.C.’s workers and employers in 1917 where workers gave up the right to sue their employers and fellow workers for injuries on the job in return for a no-fault insurance program fully paid for by employers. WorkSafeBC is committed to safe and healthy workplaces and to providing return-to-work rehabilitation and legislated compensation benefits.

Sun Safety at Work Canada is enhancing sun safety for Canadian workplaces by raising awareness of the importance of sun safety and helping workplaces implement sun safety programs. The sun is a workplace hazard that can cause skin cancer, heat stress and eye damage. These conditions are preventable. The project is developing a comprehensive suite of resources to help workplaces better protect their employees. The end result of the project is a website with resources and tools that will guide workplaces through the implementation of a sun safety program. Sun Safety at Work Canada is funded through financial support from Health Canada through the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer.