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Skin Cancer: A Workplace Safety Threat to Outdoor Workers

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Summer is in full swing, and that means some extremely warm weather! July and August are typically the hottest months of the year, and those who work outdoors are exposed to hours of the sun’s strong ultraviolet (UV) rays. In May’s blog, we discussed heat-related illnesses, but don’t forget another possible cause of too much sun. Since the sun is the primary cause of skin cancer, outdoor workers are at the highest risk. 
 
Even though cancers caused by a person’s work are generally taken seriously, skin cancer isn’t often thought of as an occupational disease. The Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to minimize risk of harm to employees. 
 
According to the National Cancer Institute, people should protect themselves against skin cancer by:
Avoiding sun exposure as much as possible between 10am and 4pm
Wearing long sleeves, long pants and a hat that shades your face, ears, neck with a brim all around
Using broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 15 and can filter both UVA and UVB rays
Wearing sunglasses that filter UV rays to protect your eyes and the skin around your eyes
 
Some of these steps may be difficult to follow if you are an outdoor worker, which includes such occupations as construction, agriculture and landscaping. Most work hours are during the heat of the day, so what steps can employers take to help protect their outdoor workers from the harmful UV rays?
 
Here are a few strategies to increase sun protection:
Schedule breaks in the shade and allow workers to reapply sunscreen throughout their shifts
Modify the work site by increasing the amount of shade available – tents, shelters, cooling stations
Create work schedules that minimize sun exposure – schedule outdoor tasks early morning or evening time and rotate workers to reduce their UV exposure
Add sun safety to workplace policies and trainings
Provide free sunscreen, uniforms that offer ample body coverage and UV-blocking sunglasses
 
In the United States, more people are diagnosed with skin cancer than all other forms of cancer combined with one in five Americans getting skin cancer by the age of 70. Every year, nearly 5 million people are treated for skin cancer in the U.S., which costs an estimate $8.1 billion annually. It’s in the employers’ best interests, and it’s an OSHA requirement, to keep their workers safe, including keeping them safe from the intense rays of the summer sun.
 
Mr. Griffith has a received his bachelors degree in Environmental Health from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. He is a Certified Industrial Hygienist and president of Workplace Safety & Health Company. He has over 35 years of industrial hygiene, safety, loss control and consulting experience. Chemical monitoring, noise measurement, program development and management, risk assessment and computer management of health and safety data are areas of particular strength. Mr. Griffith is a member of the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) at the local and national level. He is also active in the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE).

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