Construction workers

UV doesn't take a holiday – sun protection is not just for summer

UV is a constant companion on the work site. Sunburn and skin damage can occur at even very low levels of UV when outdoors for long periods. And the exposure is cumulative.

The Australian Workplace Exposure Study:  Carcinogen Exposures in the Construction Industry conducted by Safe Work Australia, found just 8% of outdoor construction workers were considered to be adequately protected from UV.

The more UV you get, the greater your risk of skin cancer. Sun protection should be used all year round when working outdoors.

Tips to reduce UV exposure

  • Consider different UV reflective surfaces around the workplace.(see the table below) Where possible modify reflective surfaces or move work away from these surfaces.
  • Plan work so that outdoor tasks are scheduled earlier in the morning or later in the day outside of peak UV periods.
  • Take breaks indoors or in the shade.
  • Move jobs indoors or into shaded areas when possible.
  • Wear a broad-brim hat that shades your face, neck and ears or a construction helmet with brim attachment.
  • Wear a loose-fitting shirt with longer sleeves and a collar and long trousers, made from UFP50+ material. Choose one made from breathable fabric (e.g. cotton) to allow good ventilation.
  • Apply SPF30 (or higher) broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen every two hours or more frequently if perspiring. Try a non-greasy formula so you can keep a grip on your tools. Also consider applying SPF30 (or higher) lip balm.
  • Keep sunscreen in your lunch cooler so it is stored below 30 degrees. It will also be cool to apply on hot days. Check the expiry date.
  • Wear wrap-around sunglasses (AS/NZS 1067 or with an EPF of 9 or 10) or safety glasses (AS/NZS 1337.1: 2010).

Sonny Burns

Self-appointed UV spokesperson and wannabe weatherman, Sonny reminds workers to cover up when working in the outdoors.

Sonny Burns

 

Construction workers not only receive UV directly from the sun but it is also reflected off different surfaces increasing their overall UV exposure.

Surface

UV reflectance (%)

Soil, clay

4–6%

White sandy soil

9.1%

Concrete: new/wet/pebble tile/tile

7–22%

Ceramic tile: porcelain/stoneware/vitrified mosaic

11–33%

Shiny corrugated iron

18–30%

Aluminium-weathered

13–75%

Unpainted galvanised tin

29.3%

Polycarbonate hollow sheet

8.46%

Red brick  4.5–7%
White paint – metal oxide 17.5–22%
House paint – white 22%
Natural clear wood 2.6–5.2%
Asphalt/bitumen, new (black)/old (grey) 4.1–8.9%
Tar sealed road 6%

Source: Sliney 1986; Turner, Parisi 2018

Book a UV safety training session for your workplace

Skin cancer is one of the most preventable cancers. Do your workers know how to protect themselves from UV and lower their risk of skin cancer? Our experienced educators deliver training sessions tailored to your setting that highlight the harms associated with UV exposure and ways to reduce risk.

Book a training session

People like you

'No one is immune to skin cancer so cover up and get checked regularly.'

Read Peter's story

Peter Vine grew up down the coast and like many young children, spent a lot of time in the sun. But it was the exposure on the worksite as a young carpenter that may have increased his risk of skin cancer. 

“I’d work for hours at a time on site with my shirt off in the blazing sun. I was constantly in the sun unprotected.”

Peter Vine was 20 years old when he got his first melanoma. A mole on his right shoulder blade came back as stage 3 requiring significant surgery. As a young man, Peter was unable to afford skin-grafts so the skin was simply stretched, clamped and stitched together.

“The first diagnosis scared the life out of me and was a real wake-up call. I was forced to change my sun habits after that.”

Despite taking steps to protect his skin, the second melanoma reared its ugly head when Peter was in his 40s. An unfortunate common occurrence for people with excessive UV exposure early in life and a family history of skin cancer. This time Peter’s partner noticed a dark spot suddenly appear on his back. A melanoma on the cusp of stage 3 was diagnosed and surgically removed with wide margins taken.

A difficult personal experience with skin cancer coupled with a tragic family history has left Peter keen to raise awareness of the disease. Peter’s message to other outdoor workers is to take sun protection seriously. 

“No one is immune to skin cancer so cover up and get checked regularly.”

 

'The bottom line is these simple measures may just prevent you having to go through the year I have.'

Read Scott's story

In just one year carpenter Scott Roediger lost his brother and a close friend to melanoma. His brother Gavin was just 30 years old. His friend Graeme was just 43.

Scott wants anyone working outdoors to get SunSmart and take better care of their skin.

“Young blokes are difficult. They don’t want to put a hat on if it’s not the right hat, but it’s not rocket science to put sunscreen on or to wear a broad brimmed hat,” Scott said.

“For my part, it sucks that I needed a life or death situation to make me realise what’s important. I’d like to help young blokes realise it’s cool to have sunscreen slapped over your face and it doesn’t matter what you look like, but it’s not cool to have to go to hospital and have cancer.

“Far too many people just don’t realise the risks associated with not being smart in the sun because they either don’t care – or they think it’s not going to happen to them.

“Wearing a broad brimmed hat, using sunscreen and wearing a rashie at the beach all need to become the cool thing to do.

“The bottom line is these simple measures may just prevent you having to go through the year I have.”

Read more here.

 

'I'd been sunburnt from being a bit careless in the sun at work before; but this one took me by surprise.'

Read Lachie's story

I'm a 30-year-old civil engineer who lives in St Kilda East. I'd describe myself as a pretty typical Aussie guy who grew up playing backyard cricket and footy, with weekends spent down the beach. These days, between my work and hobbies, I still spend a lot of time outdoors. 

Growing up in Queensland I was always aware of the dangers of UV, and like most people, I’d heard how it can still be around even when it’s cold. I’d also heard that it’s possible to get burnt on an overcast day – even if there’s no sun. But probably like you, part of me thought that’s a bit of a stretch and unlikely to happen. Especially mid-winter in Melbourne. Turns out they’re not making this stuff up.

Early June last year and I was onsite at 7.30am. It was a crisp sunny Melbourne morning, and I was wearing long pants, a shirt, safety glasses and a hard-hat. My skin was well covered thanks to the arctic conditions, but my face was exposed. Sun protection wasn’t on my radar – why would it be – it was winter.

After a full day outdoors, I returned to the site office and noticed a bit of sting in my cheeks. By evening it was pretty clear that my nose, cheeks, ears and some of my neck had been sunburnt. I was floored. I’d been sunburnt from being a bit careless in the sun at work before; but this one took me by surprise.

So, this is what I now know:

If you spend extended periods of time outside at any time of year, it’s possible to get sunburnt. The sun might not be out – but that doesn’t matter. It’s the UV that causes the problem – and the longer you’re outside, the more UV your skin is getting. You might not get burnt, but if your skin is exposed, damage can still happen.

My advice is: don’t risk the damage, don’t wait to get burnt and don’t wait for skin cancer. If you work outdoors, pay attention to any exposed skin and make sure you protect it using the five forms of sun protection. Even if it’s mid-winter.