Posted May 23, 2018

Exclusive: Summer PPE: Sun Fighters

Protection from a construction site hazard – the sun.

By Isabelle Faivre, VP of Marketing, Deb USA

Construction work is dangerous. In fact, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) states that one in five worker deaths last year were in construction[1]. Safety glasses, hard hats and gloves are all common forms of personal protective equipment used on the job site, but none of these provide protection from a common construction site hazard – the sun. Every year, Americans lose more than $100 million in productivity costs because of restricted activity or absence from work due to skin cancer[2].

Skin cancer is by far the most common form of cancer in the world and most incidents can be attributed to increased exposure to Ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Outdoor workers who naturally spend more time exposed to UV radiation are putting themselves at greater risk for sun damage and the potential of developing skin cancers.

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, outdoor workers experience twice the number of non-melanoma skin cancers as indoor workers[3]. Despite this, the dangers of skin cancer in the workplace have often been neglected.

Employers have an obligation to minimize the risk of harm to employees. A 2016 Harris Poll revealed that 71 percent of outdoor workers say their employers don’t provide sunscreen to them for use at work2. Providing and encouraging sun protection for outdoor workers can help create a healthy and safe workplace.

Practice the Five S’s

Skin cancer can greatly reduce workers’ productivity. The sun’s ultraviolet rays can damage the skin in as little as 15 minutes. Reflection from bright surfaces like concrete or metal can increase total sun exposure. However, most skin cancers are preventable when best practice is followed. Consider the five S’s when it comes to protecting workers from UV exposure.

  1. Slip-on sun protective clothing: Clothing can be one of the most effective barriers between our skin and the sun because it absorbs or blocks much of the UV radiation. It’s important for clothing to cover as much skin as possible. Certain areas, such as shoulders, can easily burn, so always keep them covered. Additionally, a fabric with closer weave will provide more protection. There are also Sun Protection Factor (SPF) -rated fabrics that provide protection from the sun. For example, a shirt with a SPF of 50 allows just 1/50th of the sun’s UV radiation to reach the skin.


  1. Slop-on sunscreen. A 2017 Harris Poll revealed that 74 percent of Americans believe businesses with outdoor workers should provide sunscreen for their employees to use while at work[4]. Sunscreen is an essential form of PPE for all outdoor workers or workers exposed to UV rays. Your sunscreen should be a minimum of SPF 30 and preferably water resistant. It should also be broad spectrum, protecting against harmful UV-A and UV-B rays as well as the artificial UV-C rays created by industrial processes such as welding. Occupational sunscreens that can be quickly and easily absorbed into the skin as to not affect dexterity with hand held tools are available. Perfume-free options also help reduce the potential for allergic reaction and skin irritation.

Sunscreen should be applied to exposed skin 20 minutes before going outdoors. Reapplication is crucial too; it is recommended that sunscreen be reapplied liberally every two to three hours

3. Slap on a hat. Hats with a wide brim covers places that are difficult to apply sunscreen, including the scalp and ears. A hat also provides additional protection for the face and neck. You should also consider hats made with SPF materials.

4. Slide on quality sunglasses. UV radiation from the sun can damage not only the skin of your eyelid but also the cornea, lens and other parts of the eye. To protect your eyes, look for sunglasses that block 99 to 100 percent of both UVA and UVB rays, and screen out 75 to 90 percent of visible light. It’s important to note that the color and degree of darkness sunglasses provide have nothing to do with the sunglasses' ability to block UV rays. You can also opt for wraparound sunglasses or close-fitting sunglasses with wide lenses that protect your eyes from every angle. Although some contact lenses also offer UV protection, they should be worn in combination with sunglasses to maximize protection.

5. Shade from the sun whenever possible. Shade can provide a good barrier between our skin and the sun, so it’s crucial to seek shade whenever possible, particularly at the hottest times of the day between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. when UV penetration is strongest. Some outside jobs can be done inside or in a shaded area. If not, consider erecting a temporary shelter for protection. You can also reorganize the schedule so that outside tasks can be completed in the morning before 11 a.m. or after 3 p.m. Even if you’re working in the shade, you should still use other personal protection measures, such as sunscreen. 

Beat the heat: Implement sun safety measures 

Despite being almost entirely preventable, the American Academy of Dermatology estimates that more than 8,500 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with skin cancer every day. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Act, employers have a responsibility to ensure employees are provided a safe working environment. Once an occupational risk has been assessed, employers and employees should work together to make changes to minimize the risk. Addressing sun safety is an essential part of this.

The most effective way for employers to protect employees from contracting skin cancer is to provide sun safety measures in the workplace. Implementing a comprehensive sun protection program, which includes a range of simple protective measures, can raise awareness about the risk of skin cancer without using sun protection and prevent sun-related injuries. In addition, providing PPE such as sunscreen will reduce the suffering and costs associated with skin cancer – including reduced productivity.

As part of its Be UV Aware campaign, Deb offers tools to help employers implement a suitable and successful sun safety policy to protect its workers. Click here to view Deb Group’s video that shines a light on sun protection for outdoor workers with the use of a UV camera. CS