When and how often should workers be encouraged to apply sunscreen?
With outdoors workers having triple the risk of getting skin cancer (compared to indoor workers), sun protection is a topic worth talking about. And as warmer weather arrives and outdoor work ramps up, employers need to take steps to ensure their workers are adequately protected against sun-related illnesses and injuries.
Sunscreen is, of course, one of the most common defenses against the sun’s potentially harmful UV rays. But a recent survey shows that only about 18 percent of outdoor workers regularly wear it, and there’s a lot of confusion about when workers should be applying and reapplying it while on the job.
We’re going to clear that up.
When to Apply
Workers should apply broad-spectrum sunscreen (one that protects against both UVA and UVB rays) with an SPF of at least 15 about 15 to 30 minutes before going outdoors. This gives it time to soak into the skin.
Workers should pay particular attention to areas that are easily missed, including the top of the head, neck, ears, nose, lips, and hands.
When to Reapply
It’s best to reapply the sunscreen every two hours. Workers who sweat heavily, however, should reapply more often to maintain protection.
Each application should use a liberal amount of sunscreen. Professionals suggest that about an ounce is sufficient to cover the exposed skin of an average person.
How to Encourage Proper Sunscreen Use
Employers can encourage regular sunscreen use among outdoor workers by providing it and allowing time to put it on before beginning work tasks. Having the sunscreen onsite makes it convenient for workers, and giving them time to apply it makes it clear that sun protection is a serious part of workplace health and safety.
Educating workers about the hazards the sun poses and arming them with the tools to mitigate the risk is key to making it through the hot summer with the skin unharmed (see Strengthen Your First Line of Defense to learn more about protecting your skin at work).
More Q&As from our experts
- What is a worker-powered organization?
- What type of clothing should be worn inside a clean room?
- What are the most common toxic gases in confined spaces?