Six sun safety tips for outdoor workers

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in Canada. The primary cause of skin cancer is sun exposure, according to the Canadian Dermatology Association. If you work outdoors, you have a higher risk of developing this type of cancer because you are exposed to the sun for long periods of time.

Often, this exposure happens during those times in the day when the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation – which will harm the skin – is at its strongest, between 12 noon and 2 p.m.

The good news is that skin cancer is largely preventable. The Canadian Dermatology Association offers these six helpful tips to sun-proof your skin.

Limit exposure. Try to limit the amount of time you work outdoors in the direct sun from 11 am to 4 pm.

Seek shelter. Shade from buildings, trees, canopies, etc. are good places to seek relief from the sunrays. Make use of them as much as possible, especially during lunch and coffee breaks.

Cover yourself. Wear clothing that covers as much of the body as possible. Fabrics that do not let light through work best. Make sure clothing is loose and comfortable.

Hat is in. Wear a wide-brimmed hat (more than 8 cm or 3 inches). Attach a back flap to a construction helmet to cover the back of the neck and a visor for the front of the face.

Use sunscreen. Apply an SPF 30 or higher, broad spectrum (protects against UVA and UVB) sunscreen to all exposed areas of skin before you go outside. Reapply at midday or more often if you are perspiring heavily. Spray on sunscreens may be less sticky and may be more suitable for use when there are moving particles in the air, such as dust or grass.

Lip protection. Your lips need protection from harmful UV rays, too. Apply lip balm with a broad spectrum SPF 30 or higher protection.

Fact or myth
How much do you know about sun protection, and how much what you know is factual? The Canadian Dermatology Association helps you separate the fact from the myth about sun safety.

Myth: I don’t need to protect myself from the sun on a cloudy day in spring or summer.
Fact: Yes you do. You need sun protection because up to 90 per cent of the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation passes through light cloud cover.

Myth: A suntan is healthy.
Fact: When exposed to the sun’s UV radiation, the skin tries to protect itself by producing a brown pigment called melanin (seen as a tan). Melanin absorbs ultraviolet (UV) radiation so the skin produces more of it to try to decrease the effect of further UV radiation. A tan is a sign that your skin has been damaged by the sun.

Myth: A tan protects my skin from the sun.
Fact: A tan does not really provide much protection from the sun and is equal to a sun protection factor (SPF or protection against sunburn)) of between 2 and 4.

Myth: We need lots of sun for vitamin D.
Fact: Vitamin D is obtained through skin exposure to the sun, and also through diet (particularly fortified foods) and vitamin supplements.  To minimize the risk of skin cancer but maximize Vitamin D levels, supplements and vitamins are the best way to obtain sufficient vitamin D.  Some people are recommending a small amount of sun exposure to produce adequate vitamin D – just a few minutes a day.

Myth: Dark skinned people don’t get skin cancer.
Fact: It’s true that lighter-skinned people are at greater risk for skin cancer. People with fair hair (blonde or red) and light-coloured eyes (blue or green) are more prone to develop skin cancer than dark-skinned people. Although people with darker skin colour are more protected from sun damage, they can develop skin cancer.

For more information, including posters, fact sheets, and a sun safety policy template, visit the Canadian Dermatology Association’s website.