Newsletter XVI - UV Protection for Outdoor Workers

About 15 to 20 million Americans work outdoors. They are carpenters and crane operators, fishermen and farmers, laborers and lifeguards. Unfortunately, research suggests that outdoor workers experience skin cancer at more than twice the rate of the general population.

Partly this is because they are exposed to more ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Australian researcher Peter Gies has reported that outdoor workers receive 5 to 10 times as much UV exposure as indoor workers. Similar findings have also been published in America by Dianne Godar, a scientist at the Food and Drug Administration. Another contributing factor is that outdoor workers tend to be men-often young men. As a group, they have shown that they are less concerned with UV protection and less likely to use products such as sunscreen.

If outdoor workers are experiencing health problems because of high UV exposure and poor protection on the job, shouldn't the government or their employers or unions step in and take action? In 1992, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) of the U.S. Department of Labor did write an interpretation of their Personal Protective Equipment Standard 1910.132(a), stating that employers have a duty to protect workers who are overexposed to solar radiation on the job and risk serious physical harm or death. But OSHA has since said it isn't capable of pursuing breaches of this standard.

Luckily, state legislatures have started to take action. In California, for example, Labor Code 3212.11 now considers skin cancer developed or manifested by lifeguards- presumed to arise out of and in the course of employment-an injury that qualifies for compensation. The California Department of Health Services has had a skin cancer prevention program since 1999.

State courts and workers' compensation boards have also awarded compensation to employees who have been diagnosed with skin cancer and have been able to prove it was caused by work-related activities. There are examples in New York, Pennsylvania, and Texas. And some unions, such as the Laborers' International Union of North America and the Laborers' Health and Safety Fund of North America, have developed excellent sun and UV protection education programs for their members.

In Australia in 2002, the Federal Tax Court decided to allow outdoor workers to claim the cost of sunglasses, sunscreen, and hats as a tax deduction. This followed a test case involving a surveyor, a builder, a teacher, an electricity linesman, a cruise boat captain, a farmer, a tennis umpire, a tax auditor, and a golf course superintendent. Perhaps similar deductions will be available to American workers in the future.

If you have friends or family members who work outdoors, make sure they are protected. And encourage them to suggest that their employers start a sun-protection education program. Coolibar offers excellent UV Protection products designed to keep outdoor workers cool, comfortable, and safe in the sun, including a protective drape, everyday button-down shirt, sun hats, fingerless gloves, and one gallon pump sunscreen.

Please remember, when outside-on the job or off-be sunAWARE.