Your skin is a vital organ that the body uses for protection against pathogens and ultraviolet (UV) rays, for temperature regulation, for vitamin D production, and as a component of your sense of touch. Because skin is so important to your health, protecting it while having fun in the sun or working outside is essential. Sun exposure without appropriate protection can be harmful and cause problems like heat illness and skin damage from UV rays including sunburn, premature aging, or skin cancer.
Nearly 5 million Americans are treated for skin cancer on a yearly basis, impacting wages and employer cost. According to the CDC, $100 million in productivity is lost annually due to absences from work or restricted activity in relation to skin cancer.
Tips for Employers
Employers and supervisors should remember that outdoor workers are exposed to UV rays from the sun even on cloudy or overcast days (and yes, even year-round). Tips for mitigating risk of skin damage for outdoor workers include:
- Incorporating sun-safety information in worksite wellness programs such as training programs, employee brochures, slide presentations, signage with targeted messages, and newsletter or email blasts.
- Educating employees that certain medications—like antibiotics, acne medicine, diabetes medications, cholesterol-lowering drugs—can increase their sensitivity to sun, and advising they speak with their occupational health clinician or their primary care provider if they are concerned.
- Providing sun protection when and where possible:
- Broad spectrum sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher. Sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours (or less if perspiring heavily). Provide easily accessible sunscreen refill stations. Employers can also send out text message or email reminders to employees when it is time to reapply sunscreen.
- Employees should be encouraged to wear protective clothing (tight-weave or high-SPF), UV- protective sunglasses, and wide-brimmed hats.
- Scheduling breaks in the shade and setting up cooling stations that provide shade.
- Rotating workers and modifying work schedules to decrease outdoor work during peak UV exposure times, which is usually around midday, 10 am – 4 pm.
- Training workers to use the UV Index and if possible, to avoid working outdoors when “very high” or “extreme” UV levels are identified.
- Knowing your worksite(s). For example, snow and light-colored sand are reflective and increase worker exposure to UV rays.
Employers should also visit the National Institute of Health, National Cancer Institute – Sun Safety Evidence-Based Programs Listing for more ideas on how to promote sun-safety and reduce occupational hazards.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Protect your Employees from Skin Cancer,” https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/pdf/skincancer_employees.pdf
Health and Safety Executive, “Structure and functions of the skin,” https://www.hse.gov.uk/skin/professional/causes/structure.htm
National Cancer Institute, “Sun Safety Among U.S. Postal Service Letter Carriers,” updated July 21, 2020, https://ebccp.cancercontrol.cancer.gov/programDetails.do?programId=313055
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, “NIOSH Fast Facts: Protecting Yourself from Sun Exposure,” June 6, 2014, https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2010-116/