Outdoor Workers

Outdoor Worker w SunniesUnder the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 a person is a worker if the person carries out work in any capacity for a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU), including work as - an employee, contractor or sub-contractor, an employee of a contractor or subcontractor, an outworker, an apprentice or trainee, a student gaining work experience or a volunteer.

The workplace is a major source of sun (UV) exposure for many adult Canberrans. It is not surprising that outdoor workers who are required to spend long periods of time working in the sun, day after day and year after year, have a higher than average risk of developing skin cancers. It has recently been estimated that 200 melanomas and 34,000 non melanoma skin cancers per year are caused by occupational UVR exposure in Australia.

Skin cancer is a Work Health and Safety issue and workplaces have a duty of care to protect their workers. Cancer Council recommends ALL outdoor workplaces have a comprehensive sun protection strategy in place that is aimed toward minimising occupational UVR exposure as much as reasonably practicable. This includes educating workers who work part of or most of the day outdoors on the real dangers associated with over-exposure to solar UVR and the importance of effective sun protection and early detection of skin cancer. View Cancer Council Australia's Position Statement - Sun (UV) protection in the workplace.

CCV0708120508Health and safety legislation in each Australian state means your employer (PCBU) has a legal responsibility to provide a safe working environment. If you work outdoors and your workplace doesn’t offer any sun protection measures, raise the issue with your Work Health and Safety representative or manager. This legislation also states that, as a worker, you must cooperate with your workplace’s sun protection program, so be sure to cover up against the sun. If self-employed, it’s in your best interest to look after yourself and use sun protection at work.

Develop a Sun (UV) Protection Policy for your workers - view a Cancer Council sample policy template here. 

Carcinogens in the workplace- Australian Workplace Exposure Study Report (May 2016)

The Australian Workplace Exposure Study conducted by Safe Work Australia, examined carcinogens in the construction and agriculture industries. It found workers in each industry had inadequate protection against the sun’s UV radiation, despite it being the most common cancer risk to which they were exposed.

In the construction industry, 86% of workers were exposed to UV radiation, but just 7% were adequately protected. In agriculture, 99% of workers were exposed to UV radiation, yet only 10% were considered to be adequately protected with the use of shade, clothing, a hat and sunscreen. For more information click here.

Safe Work Australia guide on exposure to solar ultraviolet radiation (December 2019) 

The updated Guide provides practical guidance for persons conducting a business or undertaking and workers about managing health and safety risks associated with exposure to solar ultraviolet radiation (UVR). It contains information on the risks of solar UVR exposure, the control measures which can be used to help eliminate or minimise, so far as is reasonably practicable, a worker’s exposure to solar UVR in the workplace and guidance on how to implement a sun protection program at your workplace.

Safe Work Australia acknowledges the valuable contributions made by Cancer Council Australia and in particular, Cancer Council Western Australia in the development of this Guide. You can download the Guide here.

Construction WorkSafe Work Australia Code of Practice - Construction Work (May 2018) 

This updated model Code of Practice has been developed to provide practical guidance to principal contractors and other persons conducting a business or undertaking who carry out construction work on how to meet the health and safety requirements under the WHS Act and Regulations applying in a jurisdiction relating to construction work.

The updated code contains the following new references with regard to protection against occupational UV exposure:

P.21 3.1 Identifying hazards now includes solar UV radiation
P.23 3.3 Controlling the risks – Minimise the risk using administrative controls  includes the example of “scheduling tasks so they are completed outside peak UV radiation times to reduce exposure to UV radiation.”
And under PPE equipment “wide-brimmed hats to shade the face, head, neck and ears (where hard hats are required then it should be a hard hat brim or neck flap), sunglasses and broad spectrum SPF 30 or higher sunscreen to minimise the exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation” has been added.

To view the code click here.  

 Skin cancer and compensation claims - costing Australian employers big bucks (CCWA 2011)


A report by Cancer Council WA highlights how sun exposure at work is becoming increasingly recognised in the courts and the number and cost of claims is increasing over time. The report shows that total payments for skin cancer claims doubled from $2 million in 2001-02 to $4 million in 2008-09.

Occupational exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation (Workers' compensation claims paid in Australia 2000 - 2009) report produced by Cancer Council Western Australia found 1,360 workers compensation claims for sun related injury or disease were made in Australia between 2000-2009, at a total cost of $38.4 million to employers. These cases firmly establish the legal recognition of sun exposure as an occupational hazard causing injury/disease and of breach of employers' duties to provide safe workplaces in this context. Are your workers aware of the real harms associated with occupational UV exposure?

Workplace Medical Checks and Skin Cancer

Cancer Council ACT does not operate, recommend or endorse any skin check services or clinics in Canberra. If your organisation decides to provide a skin check service for workers, it is important to ensure the medical practitioner conducting the checks has expertise and training in the area of skin cancer.

All workers should be encouraged, and provided with information, to examine their own skin and importantly know what to do if they have any concerns, whether they attend a workplace skin cancer check or not.

Heat stress

Heat stress may affect people that are required to work in hot conditions (indoor and out), especially in the hotter months. The effects of heat stress range from discomfort to life threatening illnesses such as heat stroke.

When working in a hot environment, the body needs to disperse heat more effectively. A person not used to working in hot conditions can react differently to someone who is. This can lead to heat-related illnesses such as headaches, weakness, nausea and vomiting. To understand more about heat stress click here.

Workplace Cancers

kNOw cancer infographOccupational cancers are those that occur due to exposure to carcinogenic (cancer-causing) agents in the workplace. Such exposures include:

  • a wide range of different industrial chemicals, dusts, metals and combustion products (e.g. asbestos or diesel engine exhaust)
  • forms of radiation (e.g. ultraviolet or ionising radiation)
  • entire professions and industries (e.g. working as a painter, or in aluminium production)
  • patterns of behaviour (e.g. shift working).

Occupational exposures to carcinogens are estimated to cause over 5000 new cases of cancer in Australia each year. To read more click here.

More links

The Work Health and Safety Act 2011 took effect as of 1 January 2012. For more information contact Access Canberra (this was the Office of Regulatory Services).

The Radiation Protection Standard for Occupational Exposure to Ultraviolet Radiation (2006) published by the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA), contains guidelines for both employers and employees for minimising worker’s exposure to solar UVR.

Does your job require you to work in the sun? If yes, you may be able to claim a tax deduction. Contact The Australian Taxation Office or ring 13 2861 (for employees) or 13 2866 (for businesses). [NAT 7041-6.2002]

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