Protecting Outdoor Workers from Skin Cancer

Protecting Outdoor Workers from Skin Cancer

Summer in Vermont is finally here and with that comes an influx of laborers working outside. Unfortunately, these outdoor workers will have more exposure to UV radiation, as they spend long periods of time in the sun. UV radiation also reflects off sand, concrete, and light-colored surfaces, so it can be hard for them to avoid exposure.

The American Academy of Dermatology cautions outdoor workers to be aware of the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Being in contact with these rays for hours is a major risk factor for a number of skin cancers, including melanoma.

Did you know skin cancer is the most common form of cancer? One in five Americans will develop some form of skin cancer in their lifetime and on average one person dies from skin cancer every hour.

Here are some steps that outdoor workers can take to better protect themselves from the dangers of sun exposure:


Erecting temporary shading is a good way to protect workers from sun exposure. Limiting exposure to UV radiation during the strongest parts of the day, 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, isn’t always easy depending on the type of work being conducted. At the very least, employers should have a tent or other shady area made available for workers to use during breaks and meals.

Sun exposure is a job site hazard that often gets overlooked by employers or gets less attention due to the more harmful hazards present on a job site. Making sure workers are aware of the dangers of UV radiation and providing training on the various forms of sun protection they should be using can go a long way in preventing painful sunburns and the potential for skin cancer in the future.

Remember, even on cloudy days you are still susceptible to UV rays, as up to 80 percent can pass through clouds.


A worker wearing sunscreen might feel safe and assume he or she is protected against skin cancer, but this is not the case. Most sunscreens repel only against UVB rays, using SPF as their gauge but you also need to consider UVA rays.

Workers should use a broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher that protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Using a chemical and mineral combination sunscreen will provide outdoor workers with the most effective UV protection. One example of this is Zinc Oxide. It covers both UVA and UVB rays and has been used in different formulations for more than 300 years.


Clothing is the best form of sun protection but not all clothing offers the same level of protection from UV light. Several factors such as material, weave, and color affect the amount of UV radiation a material blocks. Long-sleeved shirts and pants made from closely-knit materials in darker colors offer the best UV protection.

There are also clothing options that are labeled with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) that offers great coverage and are typically made of lightweight fabrics and treated with sun protection chemicals or special dyes to block out UV light. Select clothes with a UPF of 50 or higher for the best protection which only allows 1/50th of the sun’s UV radiation to reach your skin. By comparison, a thin white cotton T-shirt has a UPF around 5.

Wearing a wide-brimmed hat is a great way to protect your face, ears, and neck from the sun. If you are wearing a hard hat most of the day, there are accessories available that can be fitted over or under the hard hat to provide a wide brim or neck protection from the sun.

Sunglasses or safety glasses that offer both UVB and UVA protection should be worn any time you are out in the sun. Be sure to choose a pair that fit comfortably and offer 99 – 100% UV protection.


It’s important for workers to examine their bodies monthly because skin cancers detected early can almost always be cured. The most important warning sign is a spot on the skin that is changing in size, shape, or color during a period of 1 month to 1 or 2 years. Skin cancers often take the following forms:

  • Pale, wax-like, pearly nodules
  • Red, scaly, sharply outlined patches
  • Sores that don’t heal
  • Small, mole-like growths – melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer.

Self-examinations should be conducted in a well-lit room and in front of a mirror. Use a hand mirror to examine areas that are difficult to see.

It is important to remember melanoma is often found on parts of the body that are not exposed to UV light from the sun. For example, melanoma can develop under fingernails, on the scalp, soles of the feet, between toes, ears, and even behind tattoos.

The American Cancer Society recommends getting regular skin checks preferably by a dermatologist. If a person finds such unusual skin changes, he/she should see a health care professional immediately.

If you any questions regarding protecting outdoor workers against skin cancer, feel free to contact our Risk Management Coordinator, Ryan Wilson at 802-295-3329 or [email protected]

For more information, check out these additional resources:

Article written by: Ryan Wilson


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