Occupational UVR Exposure

Cancer Council ACT recommends that ALL outdoor workplaces (including those with volunteers) adopt a Sun Protection Policy. Your policy should include strategies for the prevention and early detection of skin cancer.

Skin cancer and outdoor workers- a snap shot.

  • It is estimated that around 200 melanomas and 34,000 non-melanoma skin cancers per year are caused by occupational exposures in Australia. 1
  • Recent meta-analyses have found that the risk of Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) among outdoor workers is nearly double that of indoor workers. 2
  • It is possible Australian outdoor workers are receiving as much as nine times the UV exposure experienced by indoor workers.
  • Approx 22% of Australian workers are exposed to solar UV radiation at work. Outdoor workers exposed to solar UV radiation were more likely to be males and those residing in lower socioeconomic and regional areas. The occupations with the highest percentage of outdoor workers were farming, painting and plumbing. 3
  • Safe Work Australia recommends that outdoor workers who spend extended periods of time outdoors, work in alpine regions and/or work near highly reflective surfaces, use sun protection even when the UV Index is below three.
  • A study of sun protection in Queensland men who had been treated for keratinocytic skin cancer found that men whose workplace had a mandatory sun protection policy were more likely to protect themselves from the sun. 4
  • Large studies with extended follow-up times have demonstrated that educational and multi-component interventions are effective in increasing sun protection. 5
  • The most common cause of compensated cancer claims between 2000 to 2009 was sun exposure (51%), followed by asbestos (27%). 6
  • A total of 1,970 workers compensation claims for sun related injury/disease have been made in Australia between 2000 and 2012, at a total cost of $63 million in compensation payments. 7

What about indoor workers?

  • Overseas research suggests that the incidence of cutaneous malignant melanoma may be similar if not higher among indoor workers than in outdoor workers.8
  • The Australian Bureau of Statistics Australian Health Survey in 2011-12 showed that those employed in occupations that were mostly based inside, such as sales workers (28%) and professionals (26%), were more likely to have a vitamin D deficiency than those working in jobs based mostly outdoors, such as machinery operators and drivers (18%). 9

Melanoma and UV exposure

Melanoma risk at different body sites is associated with different patterns of sun exposure at different latitudes. Recreational (i.e. intermittent) sun exposure is a strong predictor of melanoma on the trunk and limbs at all latitudes, whereas occupational exposure appears to predict melanoma on the head and neck - albeit weakly - predominately at low latitudes. Total sun exposure is associated with melanoma on the limbs at low latitudes.10

Substances that increase sensitivity to UV radiation (photosensivity) 11

  • a number of medications can increase susceptibility to skin damage from UV radiation. These include some antibiotics, drugs for high blood pressure, some antidepressants, immunosuppressant and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Workers exposed to daily solar UV radiation should check with their doctor about any medicines they are prescribed.
  • exposure to certain substances may cause some people to develop photosensitivity to UV radiation. This is an abnormal reaction in the skin or eyes caused by ingestion, inhalation or skin contact with certain plants, coal tar and derivatives, dyes or chlorinated hydrocarbons. Workplaces where these substances are present should provide protection for workers both from the substances and from overexposure to UV radiation.

The legal position

The Work Health and Safety Act 2011 requires ALL persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) to provide a safe working environment for ALL workers. Over-exposure to solar UVR radiation has been identified as a major hazard in the workplace for many years. PCBUs have a ‘duty of care’ to protect their workers so far as is reasonably practicable from forseeable harm, this includes over-exposure to UVR. By implementing effective safety measures, good policy and worker consultation, workplaces can significantly reduce the long term risk of potential skin and eye damage amongst workers. Workers are also required to comply with these measures and cooperate with their employer.

Self-employed workers should also protect themselves from solar UV exposure as it is in their best interest.

For more information visit WorkSafe ACT.

Developing a comprehensive UV Protection Program in the workplace

An effective workplace UV Protection Program should be developed in consultation with all workers and their representatives. Programs should include processes for monitoring compliance as well as training for all workers, supervisors and managers. Training should cover the effects of UV radiation, the importance of the protection including the use of PPE and the benefits of early detection and knowing your skin for any changes and what to do if concerned. Canberra workplaces that require workers to work outdoor for part or most of the day should have a comprehensive UV Protection Policy implemented.

Cancer Council ACT can assist Canberra workplaces with their policy and offer free on-site staff training. For more information click here.

Further information and resources

This information is based on current available evidence at the time of review. For further information or advice contact Cancer Council 13 11 20.

This information can be photocopied for distribution.


1. Fritschi L, Driscoll T. Cancer due to occupation in Australia. Aust N Z J Public Health 2006 Jun;30(3):213-9 [Abstract available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16800196

2. Schmitt J, Seidler A, Diepgen TL, Bauer A. Occupational ultraviolet light exposure increases the risk for the development of cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Dermatol 2011 Feb;164(2):291-307 [Abstract available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21054335].

3. Carey RN, Glass DC, Peters S, Reid A, Benke G, Driscoll TR, et al. Occupational exposure to solar radiation in Australia: who is exposed and what protection do they use? Aust N Z J Public Health 2014 Feb;38(1):54-9 [Abstract available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24494947.

4. Woolley T, Buettner PG, Lowe J. Predictors of sun protection in northern Australian men with a history of nonmelanoma skin cancer. Prev Med 2004 Aug;39(2):300-7 [Abstract available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15226038.

5. Horsham C, Auster J, Sendall MC, Stoneham M, Youl P, Crane P, et al. Interventions to decrease skin cancer risk in outdoor workers: update to a 2007 systematic review. BMC Res Notes 2014 Jan 7;7:10 [Abstract available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24397996.

6. National Data Team, Safe Work Australia. Workplace compensation data. Canberra, Australia; 2011. p. 4.

7. Safe Work Australia. Workplace compensation data. Canberra, Australia: National Data Team, Safe Work Australia; 2014.

8. Gandini S, Sera F, Cattaruzza MS, Pasquini P, Abeni D, Boyle P, et al. Meta-analysis of risk factors for cutaneous melanoma: I. Common and atypical naevi. Eur J Cancer 2005 Jan;41(1):28-44 [Abstract available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15617989.

9. Australian Bureau of Statistics. 4364.0.55.006 - Australian Health Survey: Biomedical Results for Nutrients, Vitamin D 2011-12. Canberra, Australia: Australian Bureau of Statistics; 2014 Available from: http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/latestProducts/4364.0.55.006Media%20Release22011-12.

10. Chang YM, Barrett JH, Bishop DT, Armstrong BK, Bataille V, Bergman W, et al. Sun exposure and melanoma risk at different latitudes: a pooled analysis of 5700 cases and 7216 controls. Int J Epidemiol 2009 Jun;38(3):814-30 [Abstract available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19359257.

11. www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/sites/swa/about/publications/Documents/306/GuidanceNote_ProtectionOfWorkers_UltravioletRadiationInSunlight_2008_PDF.pdf

Last updated July 2015.

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