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Sun Safety at Work Canada - Protecting Outdoor Workers

The incidence of skin cancer, though largely preventable, is on the rise across the country. In Nova Scotia, more than 2,000 new cases of non melanoma and about 300 cases of melanoma are expected in 2015.

Outdoor workers such as those in construction, landscaping, highways, farming and parks are among those at greatest risk for overexposure to UV rays, the primary preventable risk factor for skin cancer. Sun safety is an important priority in Nova Scotia given our high percentage of outdoor workers and high rates of skin cancer.

These were factors in Nova Scotia’s decision to participate in Sun Safety at Work Canada, a project funded by the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer. Its purpose is to develop an effective and sustainable sun safety program for outdoor workers that can be applied in worksites across Canada. The program will focus on protecting outdoor workers from both heat and sun exposure by influencing policy and practice. In addition to Nova Scotia, Sun Safety at Work Canada has engaged 13 work sites in British Columbia, Ontario, and New Brunswick.

“A lot of work has been done in Nova Scotia to establish soutdoorworkerun safe programs and policies in recreation and child care settings, and to raise awareness among individuals about the need to protect themselves from the sun’s UV rays,” said Judy Purcell, Prevention Coordinator, Cancer Care Nova Scotia, and administrative lead for the Sun Safe Nova Scotia coalition. “This has not yet occurred for outdoor workers in our province. I see the Sun Safety at Work Canada project as an important catalyst for action in the workplace setting.”

The Sun Safe Nova Scotia coalition, whose membership includes Cancer Care Nova Scotia, is a champion of this project. Four sites in Nova Scotia are participating.

To date, sites in Nova Scotia have completed surveys to establish a baseline or starting point for discussion and a Sun Safety Advisor has worked with the site champions to develop action plans. The action plans are specific to each organization, and include a summary of the organization’s baseline assessment, their goals and ideas /strategies for improving sun safety in their work places.

The next step is for the work sites to review their action plans, decide on the options they will / can accept and assign timelines for implementing them.

“The goal is to have a sustainable action plan in place in each of the work sites by April 2016,” said Tracy Burgess, Project Advisor for Nova Scotia.

Emerging actions include: educating workers about the organization’s commitment to protecting staff from heat and sun exposure, evaluating and/or updating the work place heat safety policy, providing shade structures for outdoor workers, and implementing solar UV incident reporting – which would elevate a sun burn an employee experienced on the job to the status of an injury.

The ultimate goal of the project is to develop a program model with national relevance. This will be shared through an accessible website with quality materials and resources so that work places and workers across the country can easily adapt ideas, policies and programs to their specific needs.

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