People who work outdoors are especially vulnerable to the sun damage that increases the risk of skin cancer and accelerates skin aging. Yet employers often underemphasize the importance of sun protection, especially sunscreen, according to a study in JAMA Dermatology.
Researchers from Colorado and San Diego looked at 98 cities, counties, and tax districts in Colorado, where it’s sunny most days of the year. They examined each location's sun-safety policy for municipal employees who worked largely outdoors (such as parks employees, sanitation workers, police and firefighters, and road crews). While 87 percent of the policies stipulated that workers wear hats, sunglasses, and protective clothing, sunscreen was mentioned in only 16 percent of the policies. What’s more, 10 percent or fewer of the locations mentioned sun protection as the reason for the rules; this was particularly true in rural areas.
The researchers noted that certain sun-protective practices, such as staying in the shade and remaining indoors during peak sun hours, aren’t always possible for public employees. Working on roads, landscaping, park maintenance, sanitation, policing, and firefighting all involve moving around outdoors and often must be done during daylight hours. That makes it all the more important to make sure workers have access to—and use—protective clothing and sunscreen.
The researchers suggested two ways by which cities could maximize adherence to sun-protection policies: explainthe reason for the policies to workers, and provide hats, sunglasses, and sunblock so that employees aren’t required to buy their own.
Outdoor workers are not the only ones at risk of occupational sun damage. Truckers and other people who drive for a living are more likely to have sun damage on their left sides, research has found. And office workers who sit near windows or glass ceilings may also get excessive exposure to UV light, depending on what the windows are made of and whether they're treated to screen out UV.
Bottom line: If your job requires you to spend a lot of time outdoors—or you get significant sun exposure from an untreated office skylight or other source—use the same protective steps you would if you were spending the day at the beach. Wear protective clothing, a hat with a brim, and sunglasses—either provided by your company or purchased yourself—and cover exposed skin with a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF of 30 or higher. Reapply every two hours, or more often if you sweat heavily.
Also see How to Perform a Skin Exam.