Under both Victorian Health and National safety Legislation, employers and their workers need to take steps to reduce UV radiation risks at work. The Occupational health and safety Act in all states requires that employers must provide and maintain, so far as is reasonably practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risk to health for all employees and any contractors they employ, including loan labour.

The OHS Act also requires that employees must take reasonable care of their own health and safety. Employees must co-operate with the employer on any action the employer needs to take to maintain a safe and healthy working environment.

Employers must consult with the relevant elected health and safety representative during the development of a sun protection policy for work sites, and select appropriate sun protection measures. Where there are no elected health and safety representatives, employers must involve employees directly.

Implementing a comprehensive sun protection program, which includes a range of simple protective measures,
can prevent sun-related injuries and reduce the suffering and costs associated with skin cancer – including reduced productivity, morale and financial returns.

Why plumbers need to know about skin cancer

In Australia, working under the sun increases your risk of skin cancer up to 10 times more than indoor workers. If you’re a plumber, you’re even more likely to be diagnosed with skin cancer than most. That’s because plumbers spend most of their working day outdoors.

Plumbers are exposed to UV radiation both directly from the sun and indirectly as it is reflected or scattered from surrounding surfaces, which in the construction industry include concrete, glass, metal surfaces (such as steel decks and roofing materials), sand and large bodies of water.

Top tips for skin cancer prevention for plumbers

Do yourself and your employees a favour and make sure that your workforce is protected all day every day – it’s your responsibility as an employer to make your staff aware – and practice what you preach!

Before work commences the person in charge should assess the weather condition and give consideration to the following:

  • The availability of shade;
  • The frequency of rest breaks required;
  • The need to regularly hydrate with fresh drinking water not soft drinks or alcohol; and
  • The effects of heat on each worker given the tolerance for heat is different for each worker based on their age, physical fitness and ability to adapt to hot/humid conditions.

1 Don’t rely on the temperature

It’s the sun’s UV rays – not heat - that cause sunburn and skin cancer. That means you can be burnt when it’s cold and cloudy, as well as when it’s a ne sunny summer day. As a plumber, you’ll build up more UV damage over your lifetime, so you actually need to protect your skin every day when you’re outside.

2 Get Shady

Shade is a great control measure to reduce UV exposure at work. Assess your workplaces and nd opportunities to create more shade. This could mean investing in a portable shade structure you can take to different jobs. If shade isn’t available for everyone, rotate jobs so that no one has to spend all day in the full sun. You can also try to schedule jobs for the early morning or late afternoon to avoid the middle of the day when UV levels are strongest.

3 Get the right tools for the job

Bare skin and singlets are not acceptable according to WorkSafe Victoria. Due to the nature of outdoor work there is a high emphasis placed on personal protective equipment as a control measures. Personal Protective Equipment worn by plumbers will include:

  • Clothing of close weaved fabric that is comfortable and loose fitting to provide adequate ventilation (sleeves of shirts and trouser legs should not be rolled up).
  • Wide brimmed hat to protect neck and ears. Alternatively, if a hard hat is worn it should be fitted with a material neck flap to protect the neck. Hats should be made from a close-weave fabric of UPF 50+ to provide suffcient protection.
  • Tinted safety glasses complying with Australian Standard AS1337 – Eye protectors for industrial applications.

4 Get on board with sunscreen

To be adequately protected, your sunscreen must be SPF50, broad- spectrum and water-resistant. Top it up every two hours on the job.

Warning: Damage to Colorbond roofing material caused by sunscreen is an emerging problem and is costing the plumbing industry thousands of dollars in rectification work. When working on a roof, special sunscreen needs to be worn by plumbers so as not to damage the colour bond surface. Industry experts recommend Red Back Sunblock to prevent roof, damage and expensive callbacks to damaged roof installations.

5 Training

It is important that employers train employees to raise awareness of the risks associated with exposure to UV and the sun protection measures required. It is also important to ensure that employees adopt sun protection measures.

Topics to include in training are:

  • Health effects of exposure to UV radiation and why outdoor construction workers are a high risk group.
  • Factors affecting levels of UV radiation.
  • Correct use of sun protection measure on site, and early detection of skin cancer.

It is important to train employees about the risks associated with exposure to UV.