New Cancer Council research released today (29/10) shows that some Australian workplaces are still neglecting their duty of care and failing to protect their employees from harmful UV, with around one in two workers who spend time outside missing out on sun protection.
The data, from Cancer Council's National Sun Protection Survey, is being released during National Safe Work Month (October) as a reminder to Australian employers to help protect their employees' skin to reduce their risk of skin cancer.
Chair of Cancer Council Australia's National Skin Cancer Committee, Vanessa Rock, said the number of Aussie workers spending long periods outdoors unprotected was 'alarming'.
"Over 2.5 million Australians spend half or more of their working time outdoors, yet only half of those working outdoors say their workplace has a sun protection policy in place. There has been a minimal increase in the 10 years since our first survey."
Ms Rock said that with estimates suggesting that 34,000 non-melanoma skin cancers and 200 melanomas each year were linked to the workplace each year**, it was vital workplaces helped their employees protected themselves in the sun.
"Australian workplaces have a duty of care to protect their employees for health and safety risks – we know anecdotally that bigger businesses are getting the message and doing more to protect their employees in the sun, but based on this latest data, many employers aren’t doing enough when it comes to UV protection."
Cancer Council's analysis shows that male outdoor Australian workers who spend five hours or more outside are most at risk, spending on average almost two hours (1hr 56mins) more a day outdoors than their female counterparts.
"Outdoor workers are exposed to UV for longer periods of time throughout their working life and therefore receive significantly more UV radiation than indoor workers," Ms Rock said.
"As a result, they have a much higher than average risk of developing skin cancers. Unless employers do more now, we can expect to see a continuing increase in workplace related skin cancer cases and an increasing number of workplace compensation claims. Employees should also take responsibility for their own health and make sure they protect themselves when working outdoors."
Cancer Council Australia advises that sun protection for outdoor workers is important year-round because of the additional UV exposure they receive. Providing portable shade wherever possible is also beneficial, but when outdoor work is unavoidable, providing protective clothing, sunscreen and broad brim hats are key.
Ms Rock said there were clearly gaps in current practice that Australian workplaces should address. "Our research shows only one in two outdoor workers were provided with sunscreen, and less than one in three portable shade. Two in five outdoor workers were provided with hats."
"For Australian workers sun protection should be a tool of the trade – it's as important to workplace safety as shoes or high visibility clothing. Whether Australian workers are involved in building and construction, farming or outdoor retail, sun protection is vital."