Sun damage a major risk for employee health
Employers and employees both need to adopt much more comprehensive defences against sun damage as new data suggests both are applying piecemeal approaches to protecting workers’ skin.
While 55% of Australian adults are employed in jobs that sometimes regularly or always require them to be outdoors, almost a third of employees required to work outside report that their employers provide no sun protection at all. 52% of outdoor workers say their employers do not provide sunscreen, 65% do not provide protective clothing and 74% do not provide sunglasses.
The research, statistically representative of the Australian adult population, was recently released by the Skin & Cancer Foundation Inc, in its “2016 Skin Health Australia Report Card (SHARC Report).”
Associate Professor Chris Baker, Immediate Past President of the Foundation, said that it was crucial employers took a comprehensive approach to the prevention of sun damage to their employees who work outside.
“As with all workplace health and safety issues, it is prudent to adopt a risk management approach – with the objective of minimising the risk of sun damage in the workplace. That means employers having thought about necessary sun protection measures and having them available to the workers.
“Pleasingly,” said Associate Professor Baker, “the percentage of workers reporting their employers provided no sun protection at all shrunk from 44% in 2014 to 39% in 2015 and 30% in 2016.
The message does seem to be getting out there. Yet with 30% of employers still not providing any sun protection for their workers, they are exposing themselves and their workers to
significant and unnecessary risks.”
In another positive trend, it was also reported that more employers are providing sunscreen (rising from 35% in 2014 to 38% in 2015 and 48% in 2016) as well as moisturiser (from 10% in 2014 to 13% in 2015 and 19% in 2016) to act as a skin barrier and repair for employees at risk of skin dryness and irritation such as healthcare and hospitality workers.
Yet Andrew Farr, accredited specialist workplace relations and safety partner, from PwC was less optimistic about the figures. Mr. Farr said he was somewhat bewildered at the number of employers still not taking any action at all to protect employees from sun damage.
"State OHS/WHS legislation and regulations are clear on the responsibilities of employers to provide and maintain a safe working environment and to minimise risk to health for all employees and any contractors," said Mr. Farr.
"While workers also have a responsibility for their own wellbeing, employers are exposing employees to unnecessary risk if they're not providing adequate – and ideally comprehensive – protection from the sun, if their job requires outdoors work.
"It's a workplace risk that employers cannot ignore," said Mr Farr. Associate Professor Baker, who is also the President of the Australian College of Dermatologists, agreed that sun safety is indeed a common concern between employers and the employees themselves.
“Workers also need to take on responsibility for their skin health. If working outside in the sun is part of your role, you need to discuss with your employer provision of appropriate protection. Ultimately, it’s your skin and your health. We must all take necessary steps to ensure sun protection at work and during leisure.”
“The 2016 SHARC Report also revealed a tendency among a sizable number of Australians for a skin condition to influence their choice of occupation. 31% of respondents chose their occupation based on an issue related to a skin condition (a figure higher than last year’s response of 27% which was much higher than the previous year’s response of 19%).
“Employers need to be aware of how important skin health is to Australians. They also need to know that skin health of their employees influences productivity and their bottom line.
“11% of respondents had to miss work in the last 12 months because of a skin condition. That translates to over two million Australians. 30% of those, or over 600,000 people, missed six to ten days because of a skin condition. The economic and personal costs of skin conditions is enormous and it needs to be a higher priority to employers, policy makers,healthcare professionals and individuals,” said Associate Professor Baker.