Outdoor Workers – Protecting Yourself from Sun Damage on the Job

As the days are growing longer and overtime on outdoor job sites increase, there is no topic more pertinent than sun safety. If you are exposed, or have workers that are exposed it is essential that you are educated about the impact the sun can have on you and the ways that the different methods of protection, such as sunscreen products, can make a difference.

As most people know, beyond the heat of the sun and having to deal with keeping cool in an outdoor work situation, there is additional influence that the rays are having on your body. In the simplest of terms, frequent exposure to damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays causes sun damage. UV is an invisible form of radiation emitted by the sun. There are two types of UV rays to be aware of, UVA and UVB. Although not completely understood at this time the role each play specifically in long term sun damage, it is believed that UVA rays penetrate deep into the skin and are the major source of early aging and skin cancer and that UVB rays primarily access the surface of the skin and are the key source of sunburns. We are exposed to these rays everyday, regardless of whether there is cloud coverage or not. Some rays will even reach us through windows. That is why sunscreen products are recommended for use on a daily basis year-round and are simply a necessity for those who work outside.

It is quite easy for outdoor workers, particularly in the construction field, to neglect any type of sun protection, let alone pursuing an aggressive sun-safety strategy because their lives literally are at risk on a daily basis from falls, electrical and other industry specific hazards which require their more immediate attention. Often not wanting to be bothered by having to apply sunscreen because of the time it takes or because they believe it to be the non-absorbent types of yesteryear, they are unaware that there are now fast absorbing sunscreen sprays and even sunscreen towelettes that make application complete in just moments – even in areas like behind the ears, the backs of hands, the neck and other spots not being protected by appropriate clothing or sun safety accessories such as sun flaps attached to hardhats.

Basic rules of sunscreen use to follow are to be sure to use a wide spectrum sunscreen product that protects from UVA and UVB rays. It should be SPF 15 or higher. Apply 30-60 minutes prior to sun exposure, make sure all exposed areas are covered, and reapply approximately every 2 hours. Where at all possible, work in the shade or during the non-peak hours of exposure from 10am – 4pm.

Although even sunscreen products will not completely block all of the sun’s harmful rays, by using it regularly in combination with sun protective clothing, outdoor workers should be able to minimize their risk of sun damage. Many employers are now providing an assortment of sunscreen products in single application packets or bulk sunscreen in wall dispensers in order to encourage workers to protect themselves in all ways possible. Education and awareness of the potential long term danger, beyond just the threat of uncomfortable sunburn today is also often all that is needed to encourage these protective measures.

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