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Protecting Yourself from Harmful Sunlight

April 15, 2020


With all the possibilities for outside functions and recreational activities, it is important to understand the potential health and safety risks that come with being out in the sun. Ultraviolet radiation in sunlight can cause skin rashes, skin burns and even skin cancer. Exposure to excessive sunlight and summer heat can present unique challenges to those who work outdoors in very demanding environments. As an employer or self-employed worker, it is important to consider the statistics provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who estimate the lost productivity due to sun exposure to exceed $100 million per year. Not only does the sun constantly release harmful rays that can cause skin disease, the energy released by the sun can lead to heat-induced disorders. Moreover, heat exhaustion and heat stroke are two common heat-related illnesses that could impact a worker’s health and productivity when working outside.

Create Sun Smart Strategies for Working Outdoors

In addition to providing daylight, the sun emits multiple types of ultraviolet radiation. Harmful UVA and UVB radiation, which can suppress the immune system, reaches the earth’s surface every day, even on the most overcast days. Fortunately, employers and workers can work together to minimize sun exposure and introduce protection strategies to reduce the chances of sun related illnesses. Creating a sun smart culture has many advantages, such as:

  • protects everyone’s health and well-being
  • improves job site and at-home safety
  • educates people on early detection of overexposure
  • increases productivity when working outside
  • promotes use of mechanical shade to limit exposure
  • alerts people to dangers of heat exhaustion

It is everyone’s responsibility to protect themselves and their employees from the environmental hazards of working outdoors. Although anyone spending time outside should apply sunscreen to cover exposed areas of skin (particularly the face, nose, lips, ears, hands, neck and behind the knees), blocking sunlight with equipment cabs, covers and enclosures provides the best work practices. OSHA publications for working outdoors offer excellent advice on protecting against exposure to ultraviolet radiation and precautions to take if working in extreme heat.

Excessive Sun Exposure Can Cause Irreversible Harm

While the sun is a great source of Vitamin D, excessive sun exposure can cause permanent and irreversible harm. To help employers, employees and weekend warriors stay safe year round, the government conducted outdoor studies to determine the prevalence of sun protection being used as well as the workplace policies that support good sun protection behaviors. Ironically, the results concluded that people rarely sought shade at work but were more likely to do so at home or leisure. Moreover, the study provided evidence that workers who were at higher risk for sunburns and older workers were more likely to adopt and practice sun protective measures. Sunstroke (or heat stroke) was more likely when heavy physical work was required. Plus, people who spend more time working outdoors have a slightly increased risk of developing other sun-related conditions, such as eye diseases. However, the best news is that you don’t need to avoid the sun completely. Just provide a little shade and protect yourself from evironmental hazards.