How to prevent your employees from contracting Canada's most common form of cancer

Apr 04, 2016

Sun safetyIf it were simple, the short answer would be to keep them out of the sun. But how do you protect people when research shows that even brief exposure to the sun's ultraviolet (UV) radiation can put them at risk of skin cancer?

Dr. Thomas Tenkate, professor and director of Ryerson University's School of Occupational and Public Health, is leading a research project working on prevention solutions specifically for Canadian workplaces.1 He'll be sharing some of these solutions at Partners in Prevention 2016 Health & Safety Conference & Trade Show, April 26-27 in Mississauga, ON.

WSPS Network News recently asked Dr. Tenkate for a preview of what Sun Safety at Work Canada will be offering workplaces. But first, here's some need-to-know information about sun exposure and skin cancer.

  • 1.5 million outdoor workers in Canada receive substantial exposure to UV radiation. They're often inadequately protected
  • about 1 in 3 new cancer cases in Canada involves skin cancer
  • outdoor workers have a 2.5 to 3.5 times greater risk of skin cancer than indoor workers 2
  • skin cancer and other sun-related health effects such as sunburn, skin and eye damage, cataracts, and heat stress, are largely preventable by limiting exposure to sunlight

"Even If your employees all work indoors, particularly in summer people can get relatively high UV exposures - walking to work from the bus stop, going out for lunch, doing errands, etc. It's our position that UV from the sun is a substantial hazard workplaces should deal with like any other, but many people don't recognize it that way," says Dr. Tenkate.

Build on what's already in place

Sun safety and heat stress prevention go hand in hand. If your workplace has a heat stress program, Dr. Tenkate recommends incorporating UV protection into what's already in place. If your workplace doesn't need a heat stress program, incorporate sun safety into your broader health and safety program. For example:

  • policy - develop and implement a sun and heat safety policy,
  • engineering controls - ;provide portable shade structures, shade equipment on vehicles, UV protective film on windows, air conditioned rest areas, and air conditioned vehicles,
  • administrative controls - schedule work to minimize exposure, formulate an acclimatization policy, conduct regular risk assessments, post a daily UV index, and provide frequent water and rest breaks in high heat,
  • personal protective equipment - encourage employees to wear hats with wide brims and neck flaps, long sleeve shirts and pants, safety glasses with UV protection, sunscreen (min SPF 30), and loose, breathable fabrics,
  • education - deliver sun and heat safety training, presentations, resources and reminders.

Learning from Sun Safety at Work Canada's research

As part of its research initiative, Sun Safety at Work Canada has partnered with 16 workplaces to implement safety procedures and processes. The research involves:

  • conducting baseline assessments, site observations, and reviews of existing procedures
  • developing 3-year action plans to improve systems and processes
  • obtaining feedback on what does or doesn't work

The results are being used to develop resources, including communications materials, a sample sun safety policy adaptable to workplaces of any size, and roles and responsibilities for employers, supervisors and workers.

How we can help

  1. Attend Dr. Tenkate's session, "Sun Safety at Work Canada: Implementing Effective Occupational Sun Safety Programs," at Partners in Prevention 2016 Health & Safety Conference & Trade Show. While there, check out the trade show for related products and services.
  2. Launch a communications campaign with Sun Safety At Work Canada's downloadable posters and fact sheets.
  3. Bookmark the Sun Safety at Work Canada URL,, so you can check for more resources once the website becomes available this summer.
  4. Tap into these WSPS resources:
    • consultants, who can help you set up a sun safety and heat stress policy and program
    • heat stress downloads, including
      • heat stress poster
      • humidex based heat response plan
      • articles on preparing for seasonal heat stress


  1. Sun Safety At Work Canada is a 2.5 year project to recognize that sun exposure is a workplace hazard that can cause skin cancer and heat stress. Partners include public and non-profit agencies across Canada, such as Ryerson University, Sun Safe Nova Scotia, Alberta Health Services, the Centre for Research Expertise in Occupational Disease and the Occupational Cancer Research Centre (funded by Cancer Care Ontario), Worksafe BC, Carex Canada, and the Canadian Cancer Society-Nova Scotia.
  2. "Outdoor work and skin cancer incidence: a registry-based study in Bavaria," International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health, February 2009, 82:357.