Sun Exposure Risks


Doctor performing skin check

Many Australian workers are exposed to our harsh sun regularly as part of the job. It is imperative for business owners and employers to ensure workers have all the tools necessary to stay hydrated and protected from the sun. Below we highlight some of the issues that can occur from dehydration and sun exposure.

What is Heat Stress?

Heat stress occurs when the body is not able to remove enough excess heat to maintain the optimum body temperature of 37°C. This is most likely to occur in high heat environments, or in scenarios where high levels of personal protective equipment must be worn. Symptoms of heat stress include:

  • Increased sweating, respiration and heart rate

  • Heat rash – a skin irritation caused by excessive sweating

  • Heat cramps – pain or spasms in muscles, due to the depletion of water and electrolytes from the body

  • Dizziness or fainting – occurs when blood pressure drops due to extreme vasodilation and blood pooling in the legs

If left untreated heat stress can develop into life-threatening heat exhaustion or heatstroke. Warning signs extend to paleness, headaches, nausea and vomiting. Heatstroke occurs once the core body temperature exceeds 40.5°C. It is classified as a medical emergency and requires immediate medical attention.

Tired worker

What is Fatigue?

Fatigue is more than simply feeling drowsy. It is the ongoing state of tiredness that leads to decreased mental capacity, resulting in the body not being able to function within its usual parameters. A leading cause of fatigue is ongoing physically and mentally demanding work without proper breaks, fluid or energy intake.

Fatigue can:

  1. Slow reaction times

  2. Increase the likelihood of accidents or injury

  3. Reduce the ability to communicate effectively

  4. Reduce the ability to identify risks

  5. fatigued person is a danger to themselves and others on the worksite.

Sweat

Why Do We Sweat?

Your body sweats to maintain the optimum body temperature of 37°C. Sweat is excreted from sweat glands then evaporated from the surface of the skin, effectively removing heat from the body. The rate of sweating increases in high temperature or stress environments.

Sweat is not just water. It also contains essential electrolytes, minerals such as chloride, calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium.

The Difference between Sunburn & Melanoma?

Sunburn is the body’s response to overexposure of UVA and UBA radiation. It manifests initially with pain, skin redness which is warm to the touch and fatigue. As the skin begins to repair itself, peeling, blistering and itching may occur. Sunburn damages skin cell DNA and puts the body at greater risk of melanoma.

Melanoma is a form of cancer that develops in the skins melanocytes (skins pigment cells). In some cases melanocytes (usually in a mole) begin to grow and divide in an uncontrolled way. When this happens they can become melanoma. The risk of melanoma increases with repeated, unprotected exposure to UV rays. To ensure melanomas are caught early, skin should be checked by a physician at least every twelve months.


How to Reduce the Risks

Reduce the risks associated with sun exposure by wearing sunscreen, staying hydrated and keeping out of direct sunlight where possible. Even when sunscreen is applied it is important to find shade where possible. With hats or hard hat brims that conveniently clip onto your hard hat, you can take the shade with you. Hats protect some of the most sensitive skin, such as the scalp, nose, ears and neck, from the sun’s harmful UVA and UVB rays. These areas of the skin are often forgotten when applying sunscreen, but burn easily and are common sites for melanomas.

Wide brims and hats are also constructed from either closely woven fabric or polyurethane, which effectively stop UV radiation from hitting the skin.


Contact the ATOM Safety team to work on a plan to keep your team safe in the harsh Australian heat.

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