UV radiation is a high-energy radiation that can cause damage to human cells. It can result in sunburn and may lead to cancer. New Zealand has one of the highest rates of melanoma cancer in the world, putting people who work outdoors at risk.
From farmers and construction workers to gardeners and courier drivers, employers need to ensure their outdoor workers understand the risks and how to best protect themselves at work.
Under the Health and Safety legislation, employers have a responsibility to take all practicable steps to protect their employees. For outdoor workplaces, good health and safety practice includes ensuring that information is provided to employees about the risks caused by UVR and the steps to be taken to minimise sunburn.
UV reaches its highest levels over the summer months and during the middle part of the day – the time when the sun is highest in the sky and when many outdoor workers are at their busiest. The best methods of sun protection include covering up with appropriate clothing, a hat and sunglasses, using sunscreen on exposed skin and finding shade wherever possible.
While heavy cloud cover reduces its effects, UVR can cause damage even on cloudy days. It can pass through clothing and bounce off reflective surfaces such as snow, water, concrete, and metal. It can be useful to remember that the level of heat we feel during the day does not necessarily equate with the amount of UV radiation.
On the brighter side, more than 90% of skin cancer cases can be cured if it is caught early. So it’s particularly important that people working outdoors are regularly monitored to assess any changes in their skin including spots, moles or freckles.