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Sun safety at work

June 15, 2016 - The sun is a major occupational hazard for anyone who works outdoors. There are over 264,000 farmers in Canada who spend most of their workday in the sun. This means that Canadian agricultural workers are in the highest risk category for sun exposure, according to CAREX Canada.1 Sun exposure increases your risk of heat stress, skin cancer, and eye diseases – but the good thing is that these conditions are preventable!

Canadian Agricultural Safety Week in March is always a great reminder about the importance of keeping farmers and their families safe, but we don’t always focus on sun safety. Sun Awareness Week (held June 6-12, this year) is about raising awareness of sun safety at work and in your free time. Addressing the sun as a workplace hazard for both heat and ultraviolet (UV) radiation is important to keep outdoor workers safe. Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Canada, and heat stress is a common – sometimes deadly - issue for outdoor workers.

Sun Safety at Work Canada is a national project that is enhancing sun safety for outdoor workers. We know that addressing the sun as a workplace hazard can be challenging, Sun Safety At Work Canada is trialing sun safety programs with 15 outdoor workplaces and are developing resources and a website to help workplaces (including farms) enhance their sun safety.

Just like any other workplace hazard, Sun Safety at Work Canada recommends that workplaces include a sun safety program in their occupational health and safety management system or program.

For farms, trying to control sun exposure by elimination or substitution is simply not possible. Instead, consider engineering controls such as adding shade structures to equipment, like tractors and combines, using air conditioning in rest areas and vehicles, and installing UV protective films to windows. Look for a local service provider who installs vehicle window tinting – you might need to find a company that comes to your farm to apply the UV protective films. Administrative controls that may be possible for farms include conducting regular risk assessments for heat and UV, scheduling work to minimize sun exposure, posting and talking about the daily UV index and humidex, and training sessions on sun safety. Farmers should also wear personal protective equipment such as loose clothing and breathable long sleeves and pants, wide brimmed hats, UV protective eyewear, and sunscreen.

For farmers, there are six simple steps for heat safety and six simple steps for UV safety. To protect yourself from UV from the sun:

  1. Cover up: Wear loose clothing, long sleeves and pants.
  2. Protect your eyes: Use ultraviolet (UV) protective eyewear.
  3. Cover your head, neck and ears: Wear a wide brimmed hat, or hard with a brim - and use a neck flap.
  4. Take your breaks in the shade: Get out of the sun when you can, especially between 11am-3pm, when UV is the strongest.
  5. Use sunscreen and lip balm: Use at least an SPF 30 broad spectrum, water resistant sunscreen and don't forget to reapply.
  6. Be skin safe: Report changes in skin spots and moles to your doctor as soon as possible - early detection is important.

To protect yourself from heat from the sun:

  1. Know the signs and symptoms of heat stress.
  2. Watch out for symptoms in yourself and others.
  3. Wear sunscreen, a hat, and lightweight, loose-fitting clothing.
  4. Drink water often - avoid drinks with alcohol and caffeine.
  5. Take breaks in the shade and more oten on hot days.
  6. Know how your workplace deals with heat stress.

To enhance sun safety in your farm, visit occupationalcancer.ca/sunsafetyatwork for examples of resources that are available now. The project website with all resources and step-by-step instructions for implementing sun safety will launch in summer 2016. Sun Safety at Work Canada is funded by the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer and Health Canada. Contact sunsafetyatwork@ryerson.ca for more information.

1CAREX Canada generates evidence-based carcinogen surveillance for Canada.


June 15, 2016
By Canadian Agricultural Safety Association / Sun Safety at Work Canada