One in two outdoor workers miss out on sun protection

Thursday 29 October, 2015

Cancer Council’s National Sun Survey shows 2.5 million Australians spend half or more of their working time outdoors, yet only half of those outdoor workers say their employer has a sun protection policy in place.

Cancer Council Victoria’s Director of Prevention Craig Sinclair said that with 200 melanomas and 34,000 other skin cancers directly attributed to workplace exposure throughout Australia each year i, the figures were concerning.

“Victorian work health and safety legislation requires employers to provide safe working environments, but based on this latest data, employers are dropping the ball when it comes to UV protection,” Mr Sinclair said.

“Anyone with outdoor workers should have a policy in place that outlines UV risks and the steps management will take to reduce these risks for workers. These steps can include offering UV training to workers, scheduling outdoor tasks to the early morning or late afternoon when UV is less intense, modifying reflective surfaces and supplying protective equipment and clothing.”

Mr Sinclair said many outdoor workers are getting caught out with sunburn at this time of year when temperatures can still be quite cool. Cancer Council data shows that when it comes to Australian outdoor workers, 1 in 3 are provided with portable shade; 2 in 5 are provided with hats; and 1 in 2 have access to sunscreen.

“For outdoor workers, these sun protection measures should be a tool of the trade, and as important as shoes or high visibility clothing,” Mr Sinclair said.

“Unless employers act now to protect their workers, we can expect to see a continuing increase in workplace-related skin cancer cases and an increasing number of workplace compensation claims.”

SunSmart’s workplace program helps businesses to develop sun protection policies and offers training sessions for staff that can help employers fulfil their legislated obligations for UV safety.

Training sessions are delivered by trained educators and can also include the use of the SunSmart UV camera, which reveals UV damage that cannot be seen by the naked eye.

To find out more about being SunSmart at work, or to book a SunSmart training session for your workplace, visit or call (03) 9514 6419.

Key data
The 2013–14 National Sun Protection Survey was conducted via phone over the summer of 2013–14. A total of 6,349 Australians were interviewed, including 5,288 adults aged 18–69. Conducted every three to four years by Cancer Council, the survey provides a perspective on changing trends in sun protection behaviours and rates of sunburn over the past decade. Employed adult participants were asked about the amount of time they spent working outside. Participants who worked at least some time outside in their job were also asked whether their workplace had a sun protection policy, and what sun protection items were provided.

*Population figures based on population estimates (for persons 18–69 years each survey year) from ABS publication 3101.0 Australian Demographic Statistics, June 2014 and taking into account 70% of National Sun Survey respondents who indicated that they were in some type of full time or part time employment.

Table 1: Proportion of work time employed adults spend outdoors

  All Most Half Very little No time
Amount of time spent outside 6% 7% 10% 44% 34%

Table 2: Amount of time spent outdoors by workers spending 5 hours or more outdoors on a typical day

  Men Women Average for both genders
Amount of time spent outside 5 hours 30 minutes 3 hours 22 minutes 4 hour 54 minutes

Table 3: Employed adults reports of workplace sun protective provisions (% prevalence). 2013

  Hats Sunscreen Portable shade Sun protection policy
Workplace provision of 43 51 30 53

Table 4: Trends over time in employed adults reports of workplace policies on sun protection.

  2003 2006 2010 2013
Have a sun protection policy at work 51 51 57 53


i Fritschi L and Driscoll T, Cancer due to occupation in Australia. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 2006. 30(3):213-9.

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