Skin cancer risk for outdoor workers

Did you know that working outdoors exposes you to up to 10 times more ultraviolet (UV) radiation than indoor workers?

The sun’s UV rays are a danger we can't see or feel. Up to 90 per cent of all skin cancers are caused by either prolonged or severe exposure to the sun. Outdoor workers naturally spend more time exposed to UV radiation and are therefore at greater risk of sun damage and the later development of skin cancers.

If you regularly work outdoors, protection is recommended all year round, regardless of UV radiation levels.

Quick facts: Working outdoors

  • 34,000+ skin cancers diagnosed every year in Australia are attributed to working outdoors.
  • Around 200 melanomas and 34,000 non-melanoma skin cancers per year are caused by occupational exposures.
  • Outdoor workers have up to 10 times increased chance of developing skin cancer.
  • A person sitting in a car can still receive significant exposure to UV radiation.
  • UV radiation causes serious damage to your eyes, as well as dryness, wrinkling and premature ageing of your skin.

For most of the day, there is as much scattered solar UV radiation from the sky and reflecting off your surroundings, as there is from the direct sun. UV radiation is invisible and can cause harm to your eyes and skin all year round, even on cool or cloudy days.

The level of UV radiation varies depending on the time of year and day. Download the SunSmart App to learn if the UV index is 3 or above, although it is highly recommended that outdoor workers near highly reflective surfaces use sun protection all year-round, even when the UV index is below 3.

How to protect your skin

Where possible, move tasks indoors or in the shade and take breaks in the shade, particularly in the middle of the day. Wear suitable personal protective equipment and check your skin regularly, not just sun-exposed areas.

Outdoor workers can also do the following to help prevent skin cancer:

  • SLIP on a long-sleeved collared shirt and trousers ideally made from material with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) of 50+.
  • SLOP on broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen and lip balm with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. Apply sunscreen 20 minutes before going out in the sun and reapply every two hours.
  • SLAP on a hat that shades the face, head, ears and neck. It should be broad-brimmed, bucket or legionnaire (caps do not protect your neck and ears). Wear attachable brims and neck flaps when wearing a hard hat.
  • SEEK shade, particularly when you take breaks.
  • SLIDE on wrap-around sunglasses that are close fitting and meet the Australian Standard or safety glasses that meet the Australian Standard.

Since Australia is the skin cancer capital of the world, it is recommended that we get professional skin cancer checks at least once a year, or more often for high-risk patients such as outdoor workers. Your doctor may also recommend total body photography for earliest skin cancer detection.

Written by National Skin Cancer Centres