Staying safe in the sun

28 Jul 2014

Dr. Thomas Tenkate, Director and Professor, School of Occupational and Public Health at Ryerson University, and Dr. Desre Kramer, Associate Director of OCRC, recently teamed up to write a blog post for Cancer Care Ontario’s internal website. Read the full post below.


Staying safe in the sun

The sunshine that hopefully we will enjoy this summer is not necessarily good for us. It means we are exposed to solar ultraviolet radiation (UVR), which can be dangerous for our health. Non-melanoma skin cancer is strongly associated with UVR, and this type of skin cancer is also the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Canada, with about 76,100 new cases expected in 2014. Therefore, whether you are out in the sun for work or for fun, sun safety is critical.

There are two types of non-melanoma skin cancer, squamous cell carcinoma, in which the cancer starts in the cells on the surface of the skin, and basal cell carcinoma where the cancer begins below the squamous cells within the skin. Skin is the largest organ in our bodies so taking care of it by reducing how much sun we are exposed to is a priority.

Most people know that a sunburn is caused by unsafe sun exposure, but what is less known, is that even a suntan can indicate UVR damage to the skin. When you check the weather in the morning, remember to check the UV index—UV can be strong even on cloudy days. Take a look at the box below for some key sun safety strategies for recreational and work-related sun exposure.

People who work outside during the summer, such as landscapers, construction workers, lifeguards, mail carriers, or farmers, are at a higher risk for developing non-melanoma skin cancer. For outdoor workers, sun safety is complex because it involves balancing workplace scheduling, demands, tasks, and other occupational health and safety concerns along with sun safety.

Here at CCO, the Occupational Cancer Research Centre (OCRC) is working on a sun safety project with Ryerson University and partners across Canada. The project, called Sun Safety at Work Canada, is developing a national workplace-based sun safety program for outdoor workers to address both skin cancer and heat stress prevention.

Through the project website, workplaces will be able to develop their own sun safety program that meets their needs and that can be incorporated with other workplace policies and programs. Check out or the OCRC website for more information on the project. Sun Safety at Work Canada is funded by the Canadian Partnership Against Cancers’ Coalitions Linking Action and Science for Prevention (CLASP) mandate.

Key sun safety strategies:

  • Avoid being outside from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. when UVR is the strongest
  • Stay in the shade
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat
  • Wear clothing that covers your arms and legs
  • Wear sunglasses
  • Wear a broad spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher. Reapply often.
  • Avoid indoor tanning

Key sun safety strategies for outdoor workers:

  • Structural/environmental: reallocation of outdoor tasks and timing of rest breaks to occur at times when UV intensity is less (e.g., before 11:00 a.m. and after 3:00 p.m.); provision of shade structures and personal protective equipment; reporting of sunburn as an occupational injury
  • Policy: developing a sun safety workplace policy; incorporating ongoing sun safety training; role modeling; mentorship; incentives; incorporating sun safety responsibilities into job descriptions
  • Educational: practical and meaningful information, resources, and education
  • Screening: arrangements for individual screening; encouraging skin self-examinations