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WorkSafe turns up the heat on sun protection

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WorkSafe Victoria will begin enforcing sun protection on construction sites, following the launch of Working Safely in the Sun, a joint initiative with SunSmart, a program of the Cancer Council Victoria.

Launched at the MCG construction site as part of National Skin Cancer Action Week, Working Safely in the Sun will see WorkSafe inspectors visiting more than 300 worksites to ensure construction workers are adequately protected against sun damage.

"We set out to change the culture of the construction industry from one of stripping off when the sun comes out, to one of covering up," says WorkSafe's Construction and Utilities director, Geoff Thomas.

"WorkSafe now expects all employers of outdoor workers to have sun protection measures in place during the months when UV radiation is at a harmful level."

Data from the Cancer Council Australia's National Sun Survey indicates many outdoor worksites are hearing the SunSmart message.

Fifty per cent of surveyed outdoor workers indicated there was a sun protection policy at their workplace, and over 40 per cent were provided with hats and sunscreen.

Mr Thomas said while these results were encouraging, "it's time to get tough on workplaces which are failing to put sun protection measures in place".

"Industry has had several years advance notice of this campaign - they have had time to get the message that it's not acceptable to be exposed to high levels of UV radiation," he said.

"From this summer on, WorkSafe will enforce sun protection measures. Failure to comply could lead to WorkSafe court action.”

SunSmart program manager Kylie Strong agreed that sun protection of outdoor workers must be taken seriously.

"Skin cancer is an almost-entirely preventable disease, and yet affects one in two Australians during their lifetimes," says Ms Strong.

"Because they are generally outside during peak UV radiation times, construction workers are a particularly high-risk group for contracting skin cancer.

"Employers can play a vital role in protecting their workers against sun damage," Ms Strong said.

"By encouraging workers to wear sun protective clothing such as long pants and a long-sleeved shirt, a broad-brimmed hat and sunglasses, and re-applying broad-spectrum SPF30+ sunscreen every two hours, employers dramatically reduce the their staff's UV exposure levels."

Over the past two years, 26 per cent of construction workers who volunteered for free WorkSafe-funded medical checks were found to have sun damage requiring referral for further medical attention.

For more information on working safely outdoors, including the 'Sun Protection for Construction and other Outdoor Workers' guidance note, visit WorkSafe's website at www.worksafe.vic.gov.au.

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