SunSmart for outdoor workers

Skin cancer is one of the most preventable forms of cancer, yet there are up 13,000 cases diagnosed annually in Ireland, and it is rapidly rising.

Skin cancer is on the increase, and research indicates that outdoor workers are at greatest risk. Ensuring a risk assessment is completed is essential, as well as making sure that workers are aware of appropriate precautions to take to reduce the risk, as a diagnosis of skin cancer can result in stress, anxiety, depression, and time off work for treatment.

The SunSmart campaign, which is the HSE’s National Cancer Control Programme (NCCP), in collaboration with Healthy Ireland and cross-sectoral partners, are working together to support people to protect their skin from the sun. Their annual campaign runs from April to September each year.

Speaking with Maria McEnery, cancer prevention officer with the NCCP, she emphasises that workers can reduce their risk by avoiding overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight, or artificial sources such as sunbeds.

Referring to the ‘National Skin Cancer Prevention Plan 2019-2022’, she explains, the aim of the plan is to increase awareness and adoption of skin cancer prevention behaviours in Ireland. “Within the plan there is a focus on high-risk groups, which includes outdoor workers and those who pursue outdoor leisure activities i.e., sport or tourism, sunbed users, as well as children and young people”, says Maria adding that the HSE’s NCCP is currently trialling two pilot projects involving sunscreen dispensers, and wide-brimmed hats with a number of organisations.

The two pilot projects cover a 12-week period during the summer, and one of the projects involves a pilot study on sunscreen dispensers which have a UV index display. These are currently being piloted with a number of outdoor worker and outdoor leisure organisations, including An Post, Dublin Airport Authority, Water Safety Ireland and community groups. The intention is to raise awareness of the importance of including sunscreen as an essential part of sun protection when spending time outdoors.

“The UV index on the dispensers is very important for those who work outdoors, as it indicates the strength of the sun’s UV rays, so that you know when to protect your skin”, explains Maria. If the UV index displays at three or above, skin protection is needed. UV is always strongest during the middle of the day, typically between the hours of 11:00am-3:00pm during April to September.

The second pilot project involves the use of wide brimmed hats, which have been provided to outdoor worker and outdoor leisure organisations, including coaches in a children’s’ summer camp provider, horticultural workers and some Office of Public Works (OPW) locations.

“Not all hats offer the same level of protection. Wide-brim or bucket style hats offer the best protection from UV radiations as they protect the face, back of the neck, eyes and ears”, advises Maria. The aim of both pilot studies is to highlight the difference that protective behaviours, such as using sunscreen and hats can make.


SunSmart outdoor worker resources include a SunSmart framework for skin cancer prevention in outdoor workers, an audit tool, a sample survey on skin cancer prevention, UV exposure risk assessments, terms of reference, and much more are available at

A webinar recording of ‘Skin Cancer and Protection for Outdoor Workers’ which was held on world day for safety and health at work , Thursday 28th of April at 4pm with guest speaker Cheryl Peters, from the University of Calgary, Canada, a national expert in occupational UV exposure is available to view on the following link

You can also contact Maria McEnery, cancer prevention officer at the National Cancer Control Programme at

Source: Health and Safety Review