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Changing attitudes on the frontline: Sun protection for outdoor workers

Industry Trends | World Of Work | By | 26 Apr 2024 | 4 minute read

Scott Cam World Day for Safety and Health at Work 2024

There’s an invisible problem on the frontline. 

Every day, workers on the ground face a hazard hiding in plain sight. And they’re doing very little to protect themselves against it. ​​You guessed it – we’re talking about sun exposure. 

The 28th of April marks World Day for Safety and Health at Work and this year, the UN is urging companies to ensure safety and health in a changing climate.

Safety awareness is high around certain risks – physical hazards like operating heavy machinery, industry-specific risks like electrical or fire hazards, and even psychosocial hazards around stress and burnout. But much more can be done when it comes to environmental risks in the workplace.

Frontline workers are in the hot seat 

Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world and tradies are at even more risk, given the outdoor nature of their work. Not to mention daily exposure to high temperatures puts workers at risk of heat stress, which can lead to heat exhaustion and heat stroke. 

We recently conducted a survey of over 1,000 outdoor workers, including tradies, landscapers, and road workers. The survey found that almost half of Australia’s outdoor workforce has been sunburnt at work in the last year. 

We also identified some potential reasons for this.

  • 64% of people working outside simply forget to put sun protection on 
  • 23% don’t have time to apply it
  • 33% prioritize grabbing a coffee instead of applying sunscreen
  • 26% prioritize hitting the gym instead of applying sunscreen
  • 23% prioritize grabbing a schooner instead of applying sunscreen

Tradies are known for their robust safety standards on site, but our report shows that most don’t consider sun safety a part of their work. Almost all (93%) of the workers we surveyed are concerned about the long-term effects of working in the sun. This issue isn’t isolated to Australian workers. 

Down under, the main environmental dangers are soaring temperatures and extreme UV. But we’ve also seen firsthand how protection from extreme weather is relevant worldwide. At SafetyCulture, we work with customers all around the world in all sorts of environments. Exposure to harsh elements is an issue for every outdoor worker, especially given the current climate crisis. 

Did you know? We also recently surveyed more than 2,000 frontline workers to shed some light on their experience and needs in the workplace. Our aim was to uncover the gaps between employers and frontline workers. Read about it in our report, ‘Feedback from the Field: Room for Improvement

Shifting attitudes on the frontline

50% of workplaces we surveyed have a sun protection policy in place, but only a quarter of businesses enforce them. 

It’s clear something needs to change, and according to our research, businesses should be feeling the heat. 

Outdoor workers are bearing the brunt of climate extremes so it’s about time we updated our workplace safety guidelines to tackle these concerns head-on. And it sounds like frontline workers are ready to lose the “she’ll be right” attitude towards sun safety. 

So, let’s dive into climate-specific workplace safety tips to improve working conditions on the frontline!

According to our survey, almost one in five tradies don’t believe their employer is proactive in providing access to proper PPE for working outdoors. Nearly 30% of employers don’t offer any form of sun protection gear.

Change starts at the top 

Creating a behavioral shift starts at the top. Businesses should review the sun protection policies they have in place and be sure to enforce them. 

To cement sun protection as part of your standard operating procedures, create a checklist for teams to follow, outlining steps to prevent heat stress. 

Don’t forget to communicate these policies with frontline teams. Make sure sun smart behaviors are top of mind on the job site by creating a simple yet engaging Heads Up.  Schedule heat stress toolbox talks via Heads Up and dig into potential issues or oversights captured in previous inspections. 

Automate weather alerts

Did you know 9 in 10 outdoor workers in Australia would see value in notifications about extreme weather conditions? 

Keep a close eye on environmental conditions with the help of IoT-powered monitoring sensors. Leveraging real-time data, these sensors provide instant notifications of weather changes so you can quickly remove your teams from harm’s way. Remotely monitor air quality, smoke levels, and more. 

Stock up on PPE

When it comes to protecting frontline teams against harsh climates, definitely sweat the small stuff. 

Make sure everyone is fully equipped with personal protective equipment (PPE) to shield them from sun exposure. 

This includes:

  • A long-sleeved shirt with a collar and long pants, ideally made from material with an ultraviolet protection factor of 50+
  • A broad-brimmed hat or a hard hat attachment
  • Sunglasses that meet the Australian Standard AS/NZS 1067 or safety glasses that meet the Australian Standard AS/NZS 1337.1
  • Broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen and lip balm with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher

Stock up in a few clicks with SafetyCulture Marketplace, your one-stop shop for workplace PPE. Engineered for comfort and durability, they offer reliable defense against potential hazards. 

Check on your mates

Employers and workers have a shared responsibility to reduce workplace exposure to UV. The business puts policies in place, but it takes two to see it through! 

It could be as simple as checking in with your teammates to make sure everyone has their hat, sunnies, and sunscreen for the day. Suggest taking breaks in the shade or take the initiative to move jobs to shaded areas when the opportunity arises. 

These small actions go a long way in helping everyone arrive and leave work safely. It’s a team effort, and SafetyCulture is committed to supporting frontline workers and organizations prioritize environmental health and safety.

frontline workers in the sun for world health day for health and safety safetyculture

More insights on World Day for Safety and Health at Work for outdoor workers:

About the research

Antenna, an independent consumer research agency on behalf of SafetyCulture, conducted an online AntennaPoll survey of n=1,008 Australian outdoor workers. The survey was conducted between 4th and 12th April, 2024. The survey data collection was national, and respondents were sourced using an accredited online research access panel. Data was weighted for representation against 2021 ABS Census data.

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Important Notice
The information contained in this article is general in nature and you should consider whether the information is appropriate to your specific needs. Legal and other matters referred to in this article are based on our interpretation of laws existing at the time and should not be relied on in place of professional advice. We are not responsible for the content of any site owned by a third party that may be linked to this article. SafetyCulture disclaims all liability (except for any liability which by law cannot be excluded) for any error, inaccuracy, or omission from the information contained in this article, any site linked to this article, and any loss or damage suffered by any person directly or indirectly through relying on this information.