The Business Risks of Sun Exposure for Outdoor Workers

A safe workplace is a happy workplace for employers and employees alike. If companies don’t care for their people, how can they expect to prosper? Businesses that have workers exposed to the sun on the job must take measures to protect their employees from the harmful ultraviolet radiation that could lead to deadly skin cancer. 

In this guide, we’ll look at various sun hazards and the problems they pose for employers and employees alike. Then, we’ll share some strategies to help you mitigate these risks.  

What Are The Business Risks of Sun Exposure?

There are all sorts of risks associated with neglecting worker health and safety, from lawsuits and profit loss to disgruntled employees and high turnover rates. But let’s start with the most critical ones. 

  • Sun Exposure Lawsuits
  • Loss of Productivity and Profits
  • Workers’ Compensation Claims
  • Increased Risk of Cancer for Workers Later in Life

It pays to be good to your team. But this isn’t just a question of best practices–it’s the law. OSHA’s General Duty Clause obligates employers to generally provide a workplace free from hazards likely to cause death or serious harm. Failure to consider the short and long-term consequences of sun exposure, such as skin cancer and heat stroke, would not be consistent with this law and could make the company liable.

Sun Exposure Lawsuits

Workers who get injured or fall ill on the job are entitled to workers’ compensation. Generally speaking, workers’ comp is considered the “exclusive remedy” for job-related injuries since state law requires most employers to carry workers’ compensation insurance. The advantage of this is that the worker can get immediate medical attention at no cost without first proving the employer was at fault. 

But, in some instances, they may file a lawsuit instead. By contrast, a lawsuit requires proving the employer’s negligence in court–a lengthy and expensive process–and is therefore much less common. But where a workers’ comp claim doesn’t cover pain and suffering, a lawsuit likely would. 

Examples of an employer’s negligence might include:

  • The employer breached a “duty of care” by not providing proper PPEs, directly resulting in illness, injury, or death 
  • A worker was hurt because of the employer’s intentional conduct
  • The illness resulted from a toxic substance, such as asbestos 

This last item constitutes one of the most well-known examples of personal injury lawsuits filed against employers. Asbestos litigations involving thousands of plaintiffs each year have continued since the 1960s, and many companies have had to file for bankruptcy under the burden of asbestos suits. 

The Occupation Health and Safety Act passed by Congress in 1970 makes employers responsible for adequately protecting workers from the hazards of their job site. Failure to do so puts businesses in a position of liability–and for outdoor workers, sun exposure is a significant hazard.

Workers’ Compensation Claims

The risks of being in the sun are extra high for those in exposed working environments like construction workers, fishing crews, farmers, roofers, landscapers, and postal workers. Therefore, skin cancer, a long-term effect of sun exposure, is a compensable disease in certain occupations. 

There have been many cases where the causal relationship between a person’s employment and skin cancer diagnosis has resulted in a successful workers’ comp claim.   

  • The Supreme Court of Washington State upheld the permanent total disability benefits for a firefighter facing a fatal melanoma.
  • A recent California bill expanded presumptive coverage of skin cancer to include park rangers (in addition to lifeguards and police officers).
  • In Massachusetts, skin cancer is considered an occupational disease for firefighters, state police, and certain marine workers.
  • In Texas alone, nearly 7,600 workers’ comp claims for heat-related illnesses between 1998 and 2018 resulted in $14 million in medical bills and $5 million of lost wages.

Loss of Productivity and Profits

When your team isn’t doing well, it impacts the bottom line. Workers suffering from heat stress naturally don’t perform as well, or they may be out altogether. Severe conditions like heatstroke can be fatal at worst and, at the least, could take key workers off the job when you need them the most.

  • According to the CDC, Americans lose more than $100 million in productivity each year because of restricted activity or absence from work due to skin cancer. 
  • According to OSHA, between 1992 and 2017, heat stress injuries killed 815 U.S. workers and seriously injured more than 70,000.
  • According to the CDC, construction workers accounted for more than a third of all U.S. occupational deaths from heat exposure. And that’s without considering non-fatal heat-related illnesses or accidents caused by impairment due to heat stress. 
  • According to a report by the International Labor Organization, increased heat stress due to global warming is predicted to bring productivity loss equivalent to 80 million jobs worldwide by the year 2030. 

Increased Risk of Cancer for Workers Later in Life

For outdoor workers, skin cancer is a significant concern. It’s important to understand that exposure to UV radiation now may not necessarily result in problems until later. Chronic exposure dramatically increases the chances of developing skin cancer, especially in the case of sunburn. Consider these facts from the Skin Cancer Foundation

  • Even one blistering sunburn in childhood more than doubles the odds of melanoma later in life. 
  • Just five sunburns in life more than doubles the chance of getting melanoma. 
  • Skin damage builds up over time so that you can sustain UV damage later in life without any obvious sign of a burn. 

What Should You Do To Protect Your Employees from Skin Cancer?

The dangers of sun exposure are clear, and the costs are high. But, the good news is that business leaders can avoid many of these consequences. Instead, mitigate the risks of working outside by implementing simple and effective best practices. 

Consider UPF Clothing to Be Part of Your PPE Essentials 

Without hard hats and steel-toed boots, construction workers wouldn’t enter a job site. Likewise, a road crew would never set out without high-visibility vests. So why shouldn’t PPE for outdoor workers include gear that protects them from dangerous UV rays? 

UPF clothing – apparel specially designed to block the sun’s harmful rays – drastically reduces skin exposure risks. With a denser fabric weave, only a tiny percentage of UVA and UVB rays reach the skin, compared with ordinary fabrics that allow in a much more significant amount of light. 

Specially designed sun-protective work apparel, like Suntect’s UPF 50+ shirts, is made to deliver the best of both worlds for workers, lightweight and durable without permitting UV radiation. 

Make Sun-Safety Strategies Part Of Your Team Routines

Take comprehensive measures to protect your crew from heat-related illnesses that might occur on the job – and diseases that can arise later, like fatal melanoma skin cancer. Those shade breaks might seem like they decrease productivity, but they will prevent significant losses in the long run. 

Here are some essential tips to get started:

  • Schedule the most strenuous tasks around the hottest periods of the day
  • Encourage workers to take frequent breaks.
  • Provide plenty of shaded areas and cool water
  • Educate workers on the importance of sun safety, including the use of sunscreen and UPF clothing
  • Implement a buddy system to monitor for signs of heat-related illnesses and report them immediately
  • Encourage personnel to check themselves regularly for signs of skin cancer.

Have Sun Safety Talks With Your Team on the Risks of UV Rays

Employers need to be proactive about making their team aware of the risks of sun exposure and ways to stay safe. Sun safety talks should cover the signs and symptoms of heat-related illness, various items of PPE used for sun protection, and the importance of breaks and hydration. 

A handy reference to follow is the SunSmart Code of 5 S’s: 

  • Slip-on UPF clothing
  • Slop on sunscreen
  • Slap on a wide-brimmed hat
  • Slide on sunglasses
  • Seek shade. 

We recommend adding a 6th S: Slurp down plenty of water!

Learn How Suntect UPF Apparel Protects Outdoor Workers 

The dangers of sun exposure are nothing to take lightly. Workers miss time and wages, businesses face lawsuits and profit loss, and people die in the most tragic cases. Having a solid plan to protect against these risks is not only smart business sense–it’s lifesaving. Be sure to include UPF50+ sun protective work clothing in your action plan.

Learn about sun protection and how UPF clothing works to keep you safe on the job:


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