UnionsWA and Cancer Council WA have issued an urgent warning today for over 300,000 West Australians who work outdoors every day to protect themselves from cancer-causing UV and the risk of heat-related stress by protecting themselves with clothing, hats, sunglasses, shade and sunscreen year-round.
Owen Whittle, Assistant Secretary, UnionsWA said:
“During a typical working day, around one in five Australians are exposed to significant levels of sunlight.
“In WA our biggest sectors are those that pose the greatest risk for UV and heat exposure – the agricultural, forestry and fishing, construction, mining and transportation industries.
“In these sectors exposure to UV is typically as high as sixty and seventy percent of the working day.
“Occupational exposure to sunlight is a major factor for skin cancer and it adds up over a lifetime.
“Exposure to sunlight is a work issue for many people because they work five days a week and their working hours are mostly daylight hours.
“Heat as such doesn’t cause cancer but does contribute to fatigue which heightens the risk of workplace accidents – another good reason to slip, slop, slap, seek and slide.
“Sun protection, regular breaks and drinking water are important for fatigue prevention.
“In very extreme conditions of heat, it is important for all working people to know that if they have a reasonable fear of serious or imminent harm, they have a right to stop work entirely.
“Everyone should look out for everyone else in extreme heat and sunlight conditions.”
Cancer Council WA SunSmart Manager, Mark Strickland said:
“It is estimated that around 200 melanomas and 34,000 non-melanoma skin cancers per year are caused by occupational exposures in Australia.
“UV radiation damages the DNA in skin cells and this can lead to skin cancer.
“For the general public we recommend sun protection be used when the UV index reaches 3 or more.
“However, for outdoor workers, we recommend sun protection be used all the time, because outdoor workers get so much sun exposure.
“In Western Australia, we reach levels well above three during most days of the year across the state, so you can see that it’s vital that outdoor workers remember to ‘Slip Slop Slap Seek Slide’ as part of their daily routine to reduce their risk of skin cancer.
“There are three main types of skin cancer; squamous cell carcinomas, basal cell carcinomas, and melanomas. Squamous cell carcinomas and basal cell carcinomas are the most common types. Melanoma is rarer but more dangerous. All types of skin cancer require treatment.
“Recent studies have found that risk of squamous cell carcinoma among outdoor workers is nearly double that of indoor workers, while risk of basal cell carcinoma is increased by almost 1.5 times.
“We know from The Australian Work Exposures Study that 22 per cent of Australian workers are exposed to solar UV radiation at work.
“Although sun protection was used by 95 per cent of Australian outdoors workers, only 8.7 per cent were classified as fully protected by using a hat, sunscreen, clothing and shade for more than half the outdoor working time – so this is a big concern.
For best protection, Cancer Council recommends a combination of sun protection measures:
- Slip on some sun-protective clothing that covers as much skin as possible.
- Slopon broad spectrum, water resistant SPF30 (or higher) sunscreen. Put it on 20 minutes before you go outdoors and every two hours afterwards. Sunscreen should never be used to extend the time you spend in the sun.
- Slap on a hat – broad brim or legionnaire style to protect your face, head, neck and ears.
- Slideon some sunglasses – make sure they meet Australian Standards.
Cancer Council’s UV resources are available online here.
Cancer Council WA Work Settings (research summaries) available online here.