Sun Protection For Construction And Other Outdoor Workers

  • Document Type: Guidance Note
    Keycode: web only
    Industry: Construction, Quarries, 
    Category: General, Sun Protection, 
    Division Author: Construction & Utilities
    Current Version: 2
    Publication Date: 11 November 2005
    Date First Published: 13 February 2004
    Summary: This guidance note provides information on eliminating or minimising risks to construction and other outdoor workers from ultraviolet radiation in sunlight.

This Guidance Note aims to assist employers and workers in the construction industry understand the risk of over-exposure to UV (ultraviolet) radiation in sunlight.

It will help employers assess the risk of exposure and to develop and adopt effective sun protection measures to reduce the risk of skin cancer.

Outdoor workers in the utilities, mining and quarrying industries are also at risk of over-exposure to UV radiation. This Guidance Note will assist employers in those industries, and other industries employing outdoor workers, in managing this risk to the health of their employees.

1. Background

Australia has the highest incidence of skin cancer in the world with more than 380,000 people treated for the disease every year. At least 1 in every 2 Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer in their lifetime.

Construction workers have a higher risk of skin cancer than many other workers due to long periods exposed to UV radiation from direct sunlight and UV rays reflected from nearby surfaces such as concrete.

Studies have shown that construction workers can be exposed to 10 times the recommended daily exposure levels for UV radiation, based on the exposure limits set by the National Health and Medical Research Council.

2. General information

What is UV radiation?
UV radiation is the wavelength of sunlight that can damage the skin. The level of UV radiation varies depending on the time of the year and the proximity to surfaces such as concrete and metal which can reflect and scatter UV radiation.

In Victoria, UV radiation is most intense during the middle of the day from September to April (11 am to 3 pm during daylight saving and 10 am to 2 pm at other times). On a clear summer's day (i.e. January), it can take only 10 to 15 minutes for skin damage to occur.

What is skin cancer?
Over exposure to UV radiation can damage the body's skin cells. This can result in various forms of skin cancer which can be fatal if not detected and treated early. It usually takes many years of exposure for skin cancer to occur. However, there are also cases of it being diagnosed in young people.

The most common types of skin cancer are:

  • Basal cell carcinoma – the least serious form of skin cancer. Appears as a red lump or scaly area. Usually found on the head, neck and upper body.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma – appears as a thick, scaly red spot that may bleed, crust or ulcerate. Occurs on most exposed areas of the body. Can spread to other parts of the body.


Other less common but more dangerous forms of skin cancer are:

  • Melanoma - appears anywhere on the body as a flat spot with a mix of colours and an uneven, smudgy outline. Changes colour, size or shape. Can spread to other parts of the body.
  • Nodular melanoma – raised, firm and dome shaped pimple-sized melanoma that is red, pink, brown or black. Develops quickly and spreads to other parts of the body.
nullbasal cell carcinomaPhoto of melanoma
Photo of nodular melanomaCommon types of skin cancer - squamous cell carcinoma (above left) and basal cell carcinoma (above centre).
Less common but more dangerous forms of skin cancer - melanoma (above, right) and nodular melanoma (left).
Photos: SunSmart (Cancer Council Victoria)

Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF)
When choosing material for providing shade, and when selecting clothing and hats for sun protection, refer to its Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) which should be on the label. UPF indicates the percentage of UV radiation absorbed and transmitted by the fabric (see table below).

UV radiation protection factor and associacted UV radiation levels absorbed and transmitted
Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF)
% UV radiation absorbed
% UV radiation transmitted
15 to 25 (high protection)
93.3 to 96
6.7 to 4
25 (very high protection)
96
4
30 (very high protection)
96.7
3.3
40 (very high protection)
97.5
2.5
50 (very high protection)
98
2


3. Sun protection measures

What forms of sun protection are most effective?
Employers should conduct a risk assessment on outdoor work scheduled for the period from September to April, when UV radiation levels peak, to assist in developing appropriate sun protection measures. Employers need to ensure protection measures are implemented.

The most effective way of reducing UV exposure is to use a combination of protection methods. In order of effectiveness, following the hierarchy of controls, they are:

  • Re-organising work to avoid the UV peak of the day.
  • Providing natural or artificial shade.
  • Providing appropriate protective clothing i.e. clothing covering as much exposed skin as possible, clothing, hats and sunglasses.
  • Applying sunscreen.

Re-organising work
Where reasonably practicable, and the production schedule permits, organise rosters to avoid workers being outside in the middle of the day for long periods. Try to:

  • Minimise the amount of outdoor work.
  • Move jobs undercover.
  • Do outdoor tasks in the early morning or late in the day.
  • Share outdoor and indoor work to minimise individual exposure.


Using shade
Where work has to occur outside for extended periods, assess the location of this work, proximity to reflective surfaces, such as concrete, and the availability of natural shade from surrounding structures or trees.

If there is no natural shade, have a physical barrier to UV radiation by erecting temporary shade structures, if reasonably practicable. Examples of shade structures are:

  • Awnings - generally made from closely woven fabric and that have a rating of UPF 50+ .
  • Market-type shade "umbrellas" - provide strong protection due to dense weave and may be plastic coated (plastic is a strong absorber of UV radiation). Most material would be UPF 50+ .
  • Structures using roofing materials - clear plastic or tinted plastic roofing materials that are UPF 50+ .
  • Structures using shade cloth - UPF ratings may be low to moderate.


NOTE: Outdoor workers are exposed to UV radiation both directly from the sun and indirectly as it is reflected or scattered from surrounding surfaces, which in the construction industry include concrete, glass, metal surfaces (such as steel decks and roofing materials), sand and large bodies of water.

Workers are therefore potentially exposed to a great deal of UV radiation from the sun, even when working in the shade or under overhead protection. Workers should continue to wear sun protection (protective clothing and sunscreen) in the shade for maximum protection.

Protective clothing
The levels of UV protection provided by clothing increases with the density of the fabric's weave and darker colours absorb more UV radiation than lighter colours of the same fabric.

When selecting clothing:

  • Choose clothing that covers as much skin as possible.
  • Refer to the UPF rating, which should be on the label, and choose clothing with the highest rating. Close-weave fabric with a UPF of 30+ or greater offers excellent protection and would suit most applications. Where fabric does not have a UPF rating, the rule of thumb is that UV radiation will penetrate if light can be seen through it.
  • Consider appropriate fit and comfort. Sun protection garments are available in lightweight, comfortable fabric.


Ideally sun protection clothing for workers should consist of long sleeve shirts with a collar and long trousers. Where this level of protection is not reasonably practicable, shirts with sleeves at least to the elbow and shorts at least to the knee would be a suitable alternative.

Hats
On sites where safety helmets (hard hats) are mandatory, additional sun protection is needed during outdoor work to protect face, ears and neck. Various sun protection accessories are available for attaching to helmets, such as broad brims (pictured, below centre) or Legionnaire covers with peak and flap at the back and sides (pictured, below left).

On sites where safety helmets are not required, select a hat with a broad brim (8 to 10 cm), pictured below right. Wearing a canvas hat with an 8 cm brim, for example, protects the face, ears, neck and helps protect the eyes. Legionnaire style caps also provide excellent UV protection.

Hats should be made from a close-weave fabric of UPF 50+ to provide sufficient protection.

Note that a hat will only protect the face from direct sunlight. It will not stop exposure from reflected or scattered UV radiation.

Hat exampleHat exampleHat example
Photo: Buildsafe Australia


Sun glasses
Eyes are also susceptible to sun damage and need protection.

Choose close-fitting, wrap-around style sunglasses (or sunglasses with side shields) that comply with Australian Standard AS/NZS 1067: 2003 – Sunglasses and fashion spectacles. Refer to the label and select sunglasses offering "UV protection" and have an "EPF 10" rating.

For tasks where safety glasses are required, either tinted or clear safety glasses would provide adequate sun protection, if the type of lens is specified for outdoor use and complies with Australian Standard AS/NZS 1337 – Eye protectors for industrial application. An alternative would be the provision of safety glasses in the form of sun glasses that provide good UV protection.

Sunscreen
Never rely on sunscreen alone to protect against UV exposure. Sunscreen is not a "block-out" and it is still possible for some UV radiation to get through to cause skin damage.

Sunscreen provides a level of protection for areas of skin that are not covered by sun protection clothing and it should be used in combination with other methods of protection previously mentioned. No sunscreen offers 100 per cent protection and may lead to sun damage if workers are outside for long periods.

For best results with sunscreen:

  • Select a type labelled "broad spectrum SPF 30+ and water resistant" for maximum protection.
  • Apply liberally 20 minutes before going outside to ensure it is absorbed by the skin. A thin application will reduce the protection level by up to a half.
  • Reapply every two hours to clean, dry skin, or more frequently if perspiring or in contact with water.


Various forms of sunscreen are available – e.g. cream and gel – and in tubes, roll-on and spray packs. Some may be more suitable than others for individuals. An alternative is "zinc cream" for exposed areas such as the nose.

Workers should not forget to apply protection to lips using either SPF 30+ lip balm or zinc cream.

People with a natural sun tan also need to apply sunscreen. A tan does not provide any significant protection from UV exposure.

4. Training

It is important that employers train employees to raise awareness of the risks associated with exposure to UV and the sun protection measures required. It is also important to ensure that employees adopt sun protection measures.

Topics to include in training are:

  • Health effects of exposure to UV radiation and why outdoor construction workers are a high risk group.
  • Factors affecting levels of UV radiation.
  • Correct use of sun protection measure on site, and
  • Early detection of skin cancer.


SunSmart has workplace educators available to attend worksites to assist employers and their employees with information on the issue and advice on sun protection methods (Tel. 9635 5148).

5. Early detection of skin cancer

Skin cancer can usually be cured if detected and treated early.

A doctor checking worker for skin cancer
A doctor checks a worker for evidence of skin cancer
Construction workers should be encouraged to check their own skin often and look for spots that are new or have changed colour, size or shape. They should see a doctor as soon as possible if they notice anything unusual.

Information on how to do this is available and employers should ensure it is provided.

Employers can provide skin cancer checks as part of regular workplace medical examinations and in pre-employment medical checks.

However, there is no evidence that regular screening for skin cancer will reduce the incidence of the disease.

The benefits of regular skin checks by a medical practitioner are that they:
  • Raise awareness of the risk.
  • Promote the "early detection" message.
  • Provide information on how workers can check their own skin for cancer signs.
  • Detect evidence of skin damage.
  • Refer employees with skin damage to their own doctor or a skin specialist.

NOTE: Having regular skin checks to detect skin cancer is not an alternative to using sun protection.


5. Legal requirements

The Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) requires that employers must provide and maintain, so far as is reasonably practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risk to health for all employees and any contractors they employ.

The OHS Act also requires that employees must take reasonable care of their own health and safety. Employees must co-operate with the employer on any action the employer needs to take to maintain a safe and healthy working environment.

6. Consultation with workers

Employers must consult with the relevant elected health and safety representative during the development of a sun protection policy for work sites, and selecting appropriate sun protection measures. Where there are no elected health and safety representatives, employers must involve employees directly.

Acts and Regulations

Acts and regulations are available from Information Victoria on 1300 366 356 or order online at www.bookshop.vic.gov.au.

View the legislation at Victorian Law Today at www.legislation.vic.gov.au.

Standards Australia

AS/NZS 1067 - 2003: Sunglasses and fashion spectacles
AS/NZS 1337 - 1992: Eye protectors for industrial applications

Copies of these standards can be obtained by contacting Standards Australia on 1300 654 646 or by visiting the web site at www.standards.com.au

Further information


More information can be found in the following publications.

Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency

Occupational Standard for Exposure to Ultraviolet Radiation, Radiation Health Series No. 29 - National Health and Medical Research Council, 1989.

For details. contact the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency – Tel. (03) 9433 2211, or visit the website:
www.arpansa.gov.au

National Occupational Health and Safety Commission

Guidance Note for the Protection of Workers from Ultraviolet Radiation in Sunlight - National Occupational Health and Safety Commission, 1991

The National Occupational Health and Safety Commission (NOHSC) web site provides access to technical data and occupational health and safety information; go to www.ascc.gov.au/OHSLegalObligations

The Cancer Council Victoria (SunSmart)

Protecting workers from ultraviolet radiation in sunlight, 2002
Working outdoors – a skin cancer risk, 2002

For SunSmart, and the Workplace Education Program (The Cancer Council Victoria), Tel. (03) 9635 5148, or visit their web site at www.sunsmart.com.au

WorkSafe Victoria
Other useful health and safety information, including publications and Codes of Practice, is available on WorkSafe Victoria's website. Or contact our Advisory Service on (03) 9641 1444 or toll free 1800 136 089.

Special Note on Codes of Practice: Codes of Practice made under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 1985 provide practical guidance to people who have duties or obligations under Victoria's OHS laws. The Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 allows the Minister for Workcover to make Compliance Codes which will provide greater certainty about what constitutes compliance with the OHS laws.

Codes of Practice will continue to be a practical guide for those who have OHS duties and WorkSafe will continue to regard those who comply with the topics covered in the Codes of Practice as complying with OHS laws. WorkSafe will progressively review all Codes of Practice and replace them with guidance material and in appropriate cases, with Compliance Codes.

Note: This guidance material has been prepared using the best information available to WorkSafe Victoria. Any information about legislative obligations or responsibilities included in this material is only applicable to the circumstances described in the material. You should always check the legislation referred to in this material and make your own judgement about what action you may need to take to ensure you have complied with the law. Accordingly, the Victorian WorkCover Authority extends no warranties as to the suitability of the information for your specific circumstances.