Sidestep The Dangers Of Sun Exposure When Working Outdoors

Those who work outdoors face an array of potential hazards. Working at heights, working in close proximity to moving vehicles, and working with heavy machinery can all be dangerous undertakings. Understandably, it can be easy to forget that the sun also poses a major health risk for those working outdoors. Over 90% of skin cancers can be directly attributed to sun exposure and the number is growing every year. Sunburn is particularly dangerous as it can not only lead to cancer, but also reduces the body's ability to release excess heat, potentially resulting in heat-related illnesses. Fortunately, there are steps workers can take to reduce or eliminate the risks of sun exposure:

Attend to the Physical Environment:

  • When possible, schedule outdoor work during hours when sunlight exposure is lowest, such as early to mid morning.
  • Have shaded or indoor break areas, and if possible, set up shaded areas where work is to be performed.

Wear Sunscreen:

  • Use sunscreen with a minimum of SPF 30. The SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of 30 allows a worker to be exposed to the sun 30 times longer with 95-97% protection from UVB rays than without sunscreen.
  • Also be sure the sunscreen contains UVA protection as well - look for a UVA logo on the packaging as well as a 4 star UVA rating.
  • Apply sunscreen at least 20 minutes prior to sun exposure and be sure to cover exposed areas including ears, neck, scalp, lips, and backs of hands.
  • Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours - more if heavily perspiring.
  • Discard old sunscreens after 1-2 years as they lose their potency.

Wear Sun-Protective Clothing:

  • Hats with brims provide additional protection from the sun and are even more effective with a neck shade attached.
  • Neck shades can block up to 99% of the sun’s harmful UVA and UVB rays and can attach to hard hats in seconds.
  • UV protection sunglasses protect eyes from sun exposure. Choose wrap-around glasses for the most complete coverage.
  • All fabrics disrupt UV radiation to some degree, but clothing that has a UFP designation provides the best protection from the sun. Look for a UFP of 50 for optimum protection.

You can check your work site's specific UV Index daily (even hourly) at