Construction workers spend an above average amount of time in the sun which means that they are often the victims of skin damage caused by the sun. Sun safety should play a vital part in workplace health and safety particularly on construction sites because of the hours construction workers spend in the harsh sun. Australia has an especially high rate of skin cancer and other skin conditions caused by the sun.
In fact according to statistics we in Oz have some of the highest rates of skin melanomas in the world and outdoor workers suffer the most.
The value of proper skin protection and measures such as regular screening for cancer should not be underestimated especially by employers who have an obligation to protect workers as much as possible from environmental hazards such as outdoor work and exposure to the sun.
Employers in the construction sector could learn from the Local Government Association of South Australia (LGA) who has managed to reduce the number of council staff suffering from melanomas by implementing a skin screening program.
According to data, council workers referred to doctors with suspected melanomas from 65 between 2008 and 2010 to just 4 between 2011 and 2013.
The president of the LGA, Mayor David O’Loughlin explains:
“In the past three years more than 8500 skin cancer screenings have been conducted, of these 875 or around 10 per cent have been referred for further follow up and of these four were for suspected melanoma and another 142 for other forms of carcinoma,”
South Australia workers in particular are at risk of sun related damage because of the long summer days and arid landscape. Local council workers who are exposed to the damaging ultraviolet rays of the sun because of their time spent outdoors are similar to those who work outdoors on construction sites in that they are at risk of skin damage and potentially fatal skin melanomas. The following excerpt explains more about the occupational health and safety risks of exposure to the sun:
The risks associated with UV exposure has also created a potential Occupational Health and Safety crisis. The susceptibility of outdoor staff led the Local Government Association to initiate its skin screening and monitoring process in 2002 as a way of tackling the workplace risk that has the potential to both take lives and cost huge amounts of money.
The program has also gone a long way towards maintaining the appeal of actively working outdoors, which is often regarded by employees as a healthy alternative to more sedentary, desk based work.
Mr O’Loughlin said the drop in referral rates for melanoma is “particularly pleasing” and can be attributed to the continued screening and monitoring service offered to employees.
Employers in the construction industry can learn from this case the importance of skin protection for outdoor workers. Often employers view skin protection as outside their scope of concern and believe that the onus lies on employees to protect themselves. While employees do need to protect their own skin from sun damage, employers who require workers to spend a lot of time outdoors should also consider the occupational health and safety risks of doing so, including those associated with sun exposure and its damage to the skin. Perhaps taking a similar approach to the LGA should be considered, as continued screening and monitoring have proven so successful for council workers and may also do so for construction workers.