Sun a deadly risk for outdoor workers

Tuesday 20 November, 2007

Sun is a deadly risk for outdoor workers

With an estimated 34,000 skin cancers and 200 melanomas caused by sun exposure in the workplace every year, employers and workers who work outdoors are encouraged to work safely in the sun and reduce their risk of skin cancer.

The Cancer Council Australia today launched a range of resources to help employers and employees work safely in the sun as part of activities for National Skin Cancer Action Week (November 18-24).

CEO Professor Ian Olver said an estimated 1.2 million Australian workers work outdoors, and face an increased risk of developing skin cancer.

"UV radiation is a known carcinogen. We need workers and employers to understand that the sun is potentially as deadly as toxic chemicals or heavy machinery."

"Outdoor workers have died from skin cancer caused by their sun exposure at work. No one should have to risk their life for work."

"The hazard is known and the controls obvious. We know how to prevent skin cancer, and therefore there is no reason that outdoor workers should be in more danger of developing skin cancer than others who work indoors."

Professor Olver said all types of skin are at risk of damage from the sun's UV radiation.

"Skin damage from the sun is permanent and irreversible, and increases with each exposure. That means every time an outdoor worker is unprotected, they are increasing their skin cancer risk."

Professor Olver said the new resources, which include an online training course, a comprehensive booklet for employers and information for employees, have been produced to help workplaces develop and implement sun protection programs for outdoor workers.

"It is possible to work safely in the sun, and these new resources will guide both employers and employees on how they can work safely in the sun."

Construction worker Andrew Butterworth, who was diagnosed with a Level 4 melanoma in March this year, urged other outdoor workers to save their skin.

"I've worked for around 20 years in the construction industry, and to be honest, for most of that time I didn't pay much attention to protecting my skin - when the sun came out, you took your shirt off."

"It was only recently following a focus on sun protection for outdoor workers that I started to understand that I was at higher risk of skin cancer, and take more care to cover up.

"Now I've had a melanoma, I am careful to use sunscreen, a hat and protective clothing both when I'm at work and also when I'm enjoying the outdoors after work too."

"It's a fantastic thing, that great big nuclear reactor in the sky, but it can kill you, it can kill you stone dead."

Gary Thompson from ERGOSH Safety Management Services warned that employers have the key legal responsibility for ensuring the safety of employees working outdoors in the sun.

"In order to understand their legal requirements for sun safety, all employers must be familiar with the relevant provisions of their particular State Occupational Health and Safety Act."

"Skin cancer has been established as a growing legal liability for employers. Employers who fail to ensure that sun safety measures to eliminate or minimise the risk of sunlight injury are effectively in place, do so at their peril."

National Skin Cancer Action Week runs from November 18-24. The week is an initiative of The Cancer Council Australia's Skin Cancer Committee, and aims to raise awareness of skin cancer and sun protection issues at the start of the summer season.