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Ontario Cancer Facts

Outdoor Workers Not Adequately Protected from the Sun

Apr 2017


  • Many outdoor workers could be doing more to protect themselves from the sun.
  • Outdoor workers have a higher risk of squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma than indoor workers.
  • Employers also have a role in protecting workers from solar ultraviolet radiation and heat from the sun.


Outdoor workers in Ontario may not be adequately protecting themselves from the sun. A 2015 survey by the Sun Safety at Work Canada project found that although the majority of surveyed outdoor workers reported always or usually wearing long pants (96%) or sunglasses (64%), fewer workers reported always or usually wearing sunscreen (38%), long-sleeved shirts (29%) or a hard hat with a brim (25%).

Data sources: Sun Safety at Work Canada, 2015
* Workers from six workplaces
† Answer choices included "Always", "Usually", "Sometimes", "Rarely", or "Never." Definitions were not given for response categories.

Municipal and utility workers* always or usually† wearing sun protection, Ontario, May-June 2015
Type of sun protection Percent (%) of workers always/usually wearing sun protection
Long pants 96
Sunglasses 64
Sunscreen 38
Long-sleeved shirts 29
Hard hat with a brim 25

The survey attempted to understand how outdoor workers were covering up to protect their skin and eyes from the sun by taking a snapshot of 457 municipal public works and hydro utility lines workers from 6 Ontario workplaces. Surveyed workers who used all 5 types of personal protection (sunscreen, protective eyewear, long pants, long sleeves and brimmed hat) were considered to be adequately protecting themselves from the sun.

There are 450,000 outdoor workers in Ontario in jobs as diverse as agriculture, construction, transportation and mail delivery. These workers often experience high levels of sun exposure, which increases their risk of certain diseases. Solar ultraviolet (UV) radiation is the primary cause of skin cancer, plus it causes sunburn, skin damage and eye diseases, such as eye cancer and cataracts. These conditions are largely preventable.

Outdoor workers have a 77% higher risk of squamous cell carcinoma and a 43% higher risk of basal cell carcinoma than people who work indoors. An estimated 4,600 basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers are caused by exposure to the sun while at work. The association between melanoma of the skin and workplace exposure is less clear.

Employers also have a responsibility to protect workers from the sun by reducing the effects of exposure to solar UV radiation and heat from the sun. Employers are encouraged to increase sun safety awareness, provide training on how to reduce exposure, offer engineering controls, such as shade structures, and provide administrative controls, such as rescheduling work outside of peak UV hours (11 a.m. to 3 p.m.) when possible.

Anyone heading outdoors—especially between April and August—can protect themselves by wearing long sleeves, long pants, a hat that covers their head, neck and ears, and sunglasses. A broad spectrum SPF 30 sunscreen and lip balm should be applied generously and reapplied often to any skin that is not covered. It is also important to report changes in skin spots or moles to your doctor as soon as possible.