Most people know that it’s important to put on sunscreen before spending a long day at the beach. However, it can be easy to forget about sun protection while on the job. Working outdoors for part or most of the day puts employees at a high risk for sunburn, blistering, skin aging, heat exhaustion and even heat stroke, as well as skin cancer, including melanoma.
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, with more than 3.5 million diagnoses each year. During the past 30 years, more people have had skin cancer than all other types of cancer combined. One in five Americans develops skin cancer at some point in their life. Individuals with pale skin are most susceptible to skin cancer, particularly when they also have a family history of the condition.
UV radiation damage is irreversible and gets worse with each exposure. It is essential to protect both skin and eyes while working outdoors. The good news is that there are a number of simple tips to keep your employees protected from the sun.
Keep in mind that sunscreen is not an all-encompassing protection. Employees cannot rely solely on sunscreen while working outdoors. Choose water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30. Many workers prefer spray and alcohol-based sunscreens without scents because they are not greasy or distracting. Apply sunscreen generously to dry, clean skin 15 to 20 minutes before going outdoors. Reapply it every two hours, or more often as needed when sweating. You can also protect your lips with a SPF 30+ lip balm. Check sunscreen expiration dates and follow them accordingly.
Set your work schedule so that there is adequate sun protection for your employees during the hottest part of the day. The most labor-intensive tasks should be completed during the morning or later in the afternoon. When UV radiation levels are strongest, arrange for work indoors or in shady areas. Rotate tasks so that the same employees are not always doing the hot outdoor work. Schedule regular breaks and encourage workers to take them in the shade. If natural shade is not available, consider providing umbrellas, cabanas and other temporary shelters.
Employees should stay fully clothed even when they get hot, to reduce the risk of damaging their skin. Long pants and long-sleeved, collared work shirts are ideal. Whenever possible, select lightweight clothes with ultraviolet protection. Steer clear of tightly woven garments.
A work hat should provide adequate shade for the face, neck and ears. Do your employees wear hard hats or helmets? Look for brim attachments or legionnaire covers. Employees who are not required to wear hard hats or helmets should consider broad-brimmed hats, bucket-style hats, or legionnaire-style hats.
A broad-brimmed hat should have a brim of at least 7.5 cm. A bucket-style hat should sit low on the head, have a deep crown and an angled brim of at least 6 cm. A legionnaire-style hat should have a flap that covers the neck and joins to the sides of the front peak.
It is just as important to protect eyes from the sun as it is to protect skin. Choose sunglasses that offer polarization, which decreases glare and makes it easier to see on sunny days. The sunglasses should be a close-fitting, wraparound style and should be safe for both working and driving.
Finally, you should encourage your employees to drink water every 15 minutes on hot days, regardless of their thirst. Whenever possible, employees should be drinking water and avoiding alcohol and caffeine in order to stay hydrated.
All employees who work outdoors should check their skin on a regular basis. When skin cancer is found early, it can be treated successfully. Skin cancer can spread quickly and is fatal when left untreated. Take the following steps to check your skin thoroughly:
- Check the entire body including the soles of the feet, in between the toes, under the fingernails and scalp, ears, eyelids and armpits.
- Use a hand-held mirror or have another individual help you check the areas of your body that you cannot see on your own, such as your back and the back of your legs and neck.
- Keep an eye out for new spots as well as spots that look different than the others in close proximity. If a mole or birthmark starts to change in shape, size or color, monitor it closely.
- Pay attention to sores that don’t heal.
Any time you notice anything unusual on your skin, its best to make an appointment with your primary physician.
About the Author
Jeff Caldwell is Brand Manager of Superior Skyspan in Carrollton, GA. With a reputation for elegant commercial umbrella design and precision engineering, Skyspan Structures specializes in the design of cantilever umbrellas and tensile structures for your shade solution. Connect with SRP on LinkedIn or Facebook.