Outdoor Workers

Integrating a variety of protective strategies can help you lower your risk of skin cancer, which is associated with sun exposure while on the job.

Why this is an issue

Occupational sun exposure is a significant risk factor for outdoor workers. Outdoor workers have a 2.5 to 3.5 times greater risk of developing skin cancer compared to indoor workers.1 Approximately 1.5 million Canadians are exposed to the sun on the job.2 An estimated 67% of outdoor workers spend two or more working hours in the sun daily and as many as 7,000 skin cancers were attributed to occupational exposure to the sun in 2014.3

This also presents significant risks because exposure to the sun and other sources of UVR without sufficient protection is known to cause harm to the skin and eyes.4-6 The first and second National Sun Surveys showed that between 1996 and 2006, Canadians generally increased their time in the sun without improving protective behaviours.7 At the same time, the incidence rates of melanoma, the most fatal form of skin cancer, have been increasing in Canada and are projected to continue to rise. If current trends continue, there is expected to be a 72% increase in the number of new melanoma cases diagnosed between the periods of 2003 to 2007 and 2028 to 2032.8

In addition to an increased risk of developing subsequent skin cancers, people with previous cases of skin cancer also risk developing a second primary cancer following a primary skin cancer. These include malignancies of the lung, colorectal, breast, liver, leukemias, and lymphomas.9

Outdoor workers have a 2.5 to 3.5 times greater risk of developing skin cancer compared to indoor workers.

Protect your skin, protect your eyes.

It is estimated that around 90% of all skin cancers are associated with solar and artificial ultraviolet radiation (UVR) exposure—a modifiable and preventable risk factor.10,11

In addition to skin cancer, overexposure to UVR can also cause premature skin aging, eye damage, and a weakened immune system.

Overexposure to UVR is the most important cause of the three main forms of skin cancer: melanoma, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.10,11

Protecting yourself from UVR means protecting both your skin and eyes using a variety of sun avoidance and protective methods while on the job.

As an outdoor worker, you know the daily weather forecast better than most. Along with checking for rain, sleet and snow, the UV index – issued daily by Environment Canada – is a must-do part of your “getting-ready-for-work” routine. It is a simple measure of the intensity of the sun’s UV radiation that you can share with your fellow outdoor workers. Knowing the UVR maximum for the day will help you plan how much sun protection is required. The higher the UV rating, the more careful you have to be when outside in the sun.

Working – or taking breaks – in the shade can help you avoid unnecessary UVR exposure.

On their own, hats, clothing and sunscreen are not 100% effective at preventing UVR exposure. Shade – when combined with effective sunscreen and clothing practices – provides important protection from the sun. Make an effort to work in shaded areas whenever possible, especially when the sun’s rays are most intense between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., depending on the time of year and location, and when the UV index is 3 or greater. You can also take periodic “shade breaks” and seek shade during your lunch and coffee breaks to avoid unnecessary exposure.

Look for the following:

  • Permanent structures (inside or buildings that cast a broad shadow)
  • Temporary structures (large sun umbrellas or tents)
  • Trees with wide spreading branches and thick leaves

Good-quality shade includes dense vegetation and covered structures that offer shade from the side, and not just overhead, to protect against scattered UVR.12-14 As a general guide, wider and denser sources of shade provide increased SPF.13 Cloth sources of shade, such as canopies and umbrellas, should have tightly woven fabric, and additional personal protection (clothes, sunglasses, sunscreen) is recommended under shade to protect against scattered UVR, especially on high UV Index days.14

Sunscreen should be used on exposed skin not covered by protective clothing. Consider using sunscreen for the lips (e.g., sunscreen lip balm), as well.

  • Use a generous amount of sunscreen15 (e.g., the average adult requires approximately two to three tablespoons of lotion-formulated sunscreen to cover the whole body, and a teaspoon to cover the face and neck).
  • Reapply after sweating or toweling off.16
  • Use sunscreen that says on the label:
    • "Broad spectrum"
    • "SPF 30" or higher
    • "Water resistant"
  • Sunscreen comes in a variety of formulations. Find one that suits you best and apply it properly with thorough coverage. Sunscreen formulations that you find easier to apply thoroughly will be more effective.

For the best protection, sunglasses should fit closely and wrap around the face. Sunglasses should reflect or filter out 99 to 100% of UVR light. Many healthcare benefits cover the cost of prescription eyewear, including prescription sunglasses. Tinted safety glasses are also available – ensure the tint is appropriate to the work and conditions.

  • The best UV protection is offered by close-fitting wraparound sunglasses.17
  • Look for sunglasses or prescription lenses with full UVA and UVB protection. Examples of appropriate labels are "UV400" or "100% UV protection.”
  • Contact lenses, even those with UV protection, do not provide full coverage for the eye and the skin around the eye.

Opt for a range of personal protective equipment (PPE) choices as a component of a comprehensive sun safety strategy to ensure the best possible protection against harmful UVR. Make personal protective equipment that reduces UVR exposure part of your regular uniform.

  • Hats should shade the head, face, ears and back of the neck with a wide brim.18
  • In general, clothing provides better protection than sunscreen.19,20
  • Tightly woven or UV-protective labelled clothing is recommended.21, 22
It is estimated that approximately 700 cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in 2017.9

Myths & Facts

Skin Types

The pigmentation characteristics of your skin play a huge role in determining your risk of skin cancer. The fairer your skin is, the higher the risk.23 So it's important that you know what your skin type is and understand the risks.


Nevi are benign melanocytic tumours, also known as moles. They are strongly associated with risk for melanoma. The greater the number of nevi on a person's skin, the greater the risk of melanoma. An individual who has more than 100 common nevi or more than two atypical nevi has a five- to twenty-fold increased risk of melanoma.24

Your Legal Protection

Under current legislation in Canada, outdoor worker exposure to UVR is addressed broadly through Occupational Health and Safety Acts at the provincial level. These Acts have a common element regarding the duty of employers. The duty of employers means that employers are required to take reasonable precautions to protect their employees from exposure to workplace hazards.

The OHS Code specifies all the mandatory technical standards and safety rules that employers and workers have to comply with to fulfill their obligations. Part 2 of the Code states that employers are required to assess a worksite and identify existing or potential hazards before work begins and must report the results of the assessment and methods that will be used to eliminate the hazards.

Family History

A family history of melanoma, or having a first degree relative (like a parent or sibling) with melanoma, is associated with a two to four times increase in risk of melanoma.25-27 Familial melanoma accounts for 5% to 10% of cases and is often diagnosed at a younger age.

Videos & Testimonials

There’s nothing quite as powerful as hearing from someone who’s suffered the ill effects of UVR exposure firsthand. Watch Brent's true story.

Learn about the risks you face – and precautions you can take – if you’re exposed to UVR on the job.

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