OHS & WHS: employers responsible for providing workers with sun protection

More than two million employees work outdoors and as summer is in full swing already, many of those workers are not being provided with any sun protection by their employers says a recent research report titled the 2017 Skin Health Australia Report Card (SHARC), which is based on a national population survey of skin health commissioned by the Skin & Cancer Foundation.

The report found that 45% of workers are required to work outdoors sometimes, regularly or all the time. However, the report found that 57% of outdoor workers say their employers do not supply sunscreen, while 66% do not supply protective clothing and 80% do not provide sunglasses.

The report also found that 28% of employees working outdoors were provided no protection at all by their employers.

“There has been improvement on the last three years – down from 44% in 2014 – yet there are still over two million employees whose employers are not providing any sun protection,” said associate professor Chris Baker, a consultant dermatologist at the Skin & Cancer Foundation.

“Employers are potentially open to significant workers’ compensation claims if their staff develop skin cancers or melanoma.”

While employers were getting better, he said all employers should be adopting sun safe practices given the health risk to employees and their potential legal exposure.

“Two million employees left to fend for themselves for sun protection is unacceptable,” said Baker.

“Employers should be aware of their duty of care to staff when it comes to sun protection. They should consider providing, as appropriate to the work place conditions, a suite of options: sunscreen, hats, sunglasses, long-sleeved tops.”

Andrew Farr, a workplace law partner at PwC, said the lax approach by many employers to sun protection was concerning.

“Given Australia’s robust work health and safety standards and laws, I would hope to see more employers realising that it’s their responsibility to ensure that outdoor workers are protected from risk, and that includes sun damage and sunburn,” said Farr.

“Ideally, comprehensive sun protection would be provided to outdoor workers. It is important to stay compliant, minimise any liability to your business and do the right thing by your employees and their families.”

“The technical definition of ‘comprehensive sun protection’ differs from state to state, so every employer should know their obligations to staff who work outdoors,” said Farr.

Farr suggests that given the well-documented potential for harm from prolonged exposure to the sun and UV rays employers must treat UV exposure as a workplace hazard for employees who work outdoors.

“A failure to comply these OHS duties can result in substantial fines and a criminal conviction under each State or territory OHS legislation.”

“Additionally, a failure to protect an employee may result in a workers’ compensation claim or expose employers to civil liability for employee’s medical costs associated with sun damage attained at work,” said Farr.

“Employers also have a general legal obligation to consult with employees regarding hazards or risks to an employee at work and thus take measures to address employee’s UV exposure at work.”

In Australia, OHS legislation varies from state and territory, however in Victoria, Farr said the Workplace Amenities and Work Environment Compliance Code (2008) (the Code) provides practical guidance to employers on how to comply with their legal obligations.

“Employers need to provide employees with shelter (such as sheds, caravans, tents, windbreaks and/or portable shade canopies) for eating meals, taking breaks and for additional protection if weather conditions become unsafe.”

“The code references WorkSafe’s guidance note on sun protection for construction and outdoor workers,” said Farr.

According to the guidance note employers need to supply UV protection measures to their employees, particularly in September to April when UV radiation levels peak, and it recommends that employers:

  • Reorganise work rosters to avoid the UV peak of the day
  • Provide employees with natural or artificial shade
  • Provide appropriate protective clothing i.e. clothing covering as much exposed skin as possible, clothing, hats and sunglasses
  • Encourage employees to apply sunscreen to exposed areas of skin, and
  • Encourage employees to regularly check their own skin for any marks or changes that may be unusual.





Image sourced from Flickr cc: Clare Wedding

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