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Engaging people to be SunSmart

Having a SunSmart policy in your workplace is only the beginning of helping your people stay SunSmart, especially if they work outside.

Research shows that policies, rules and regulations about using sunscreen and personal protective equipment without real engagement and modelling with workers is not as effective as it could be. Workplaces, especially those with outdoor workers (particularly younger outdoor workers), need to follow up policies and procedures with ongoing education and training about being SunSmart.

Even with ongoing training and education, our research shows accidental sun burn is common, therefore frequent reminders to be SunSmart need to be built into our work environments. This includes modelling by supervisors.

Use the information on this page to better understand the issues that can influence your workers’ sun safety behaviour and compliance with your policy and procedures – and how you can create an environment that supports sun safety.  Adapt and use the ideas below to engage your people to be SunSmart.

Don’t have a sun protection policy? Visit the SunSmart area of business.govt.nz’s workplace health and wellbeing policy builder to tailor a SunSmart policy suitable for your organisation, or start with the editable Word sample at the bottom of this page.

Why aren’t we more SunSmart at work?

There are many reasons we aren’t SunSmart even if we know how to take care when working outside. While most of us know how to be SunSmart – we know to Slip, Slop, Slap and Wrap – many of us don’t practice what we know in our own time and at work.

Perhaps that’s because we see skin damage and skin cancer as something that’s years in the future, we think being SunSmart is a hassle, or we don’t see sun safety being supported and encouraged at work.

Sometimes it’s because there are so many myths about the sun, ultra violet radiation and sunburn out there. SunSmart.org.nz has a list of myths and mythbusters but here are a few of the most common relevant to people working outdoors.

I can’t get burned when working outside on a cool and/or cloudy day: Ultra violet radiation (UV) is what causes sunburn and gets right through clouds. Even if it’s cloudy and cool the UV level can be just as high as on a bright and sunny day, so sun protection is definitely needed (particularly between September and April).

My skin is damaged only if I get burned: Sun exposure that doesn't actually burn skin can still damage skin cells and increase the risk of developing skin cancer.

Skin cancer takes years to form so I don’t need to worry about being sunburned now: A lot of skin cancers might be detected in older people but the damage is usually done years before. The longer you spend outside unprotected against UV, the greater the risk of getting skin cancer.

I like to have a tan: Tanned skin is damaged skin. And there’s a cumulative risk – the more hours we spend out in the sun, the higher the risk of skin damage. The results of skin damage include wrinkles, sagging, yellowish discolouration, brown patches, and an increased risk of skin cancer.

I’ve got brown skin, I won’t get sunburned: People of all skin colours and skin types need to be SunSmart. Māori and Pacific people have a much lower chance of developing melanoma, but often develop thicker (more serious) melanomas. 

I’m wearing sunscreen so I’m protected: Sunscreen’s protection is limited, especially because so many of us don’t apply it correctly. That’s why being SunSmart starts with wearing long sleeved, collared shirts, long trousers, a wide-brimmed hat and wraparound sunglasses. This is in addition to moving into as much shade as possible and using a water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen of at least SPF30 - for at least 50+ for outdoor workers.

What motivates people to take action to be SunSmart?

Personal experience: People can be strongly motivated if they have already had previous experience of skin cancer or know someone who has. Young people tend to be more motivated by the pain and inconvenience of sunburn, peeling and tan lines.

SunSmart policies backed up with action: On-going training and education are strong drivers for employees to be SunSmart, as well as clear expectations that sunscreen and sun protective clothing will be worn at work. Plus, an environment that has reminders and makes it easier to be SunSmart. 

Role modelling: Like anything, SunSmart behaviours must be led from the top. Seeing managers and supervisors being SunSmart means workers are far more likely to do the same – that’s how they really know it’s expected.

Ideas to engage people in SunSmart behaviour at work  

Schedule supervisors to talk about being SunSmart: People do need reminding to protect themselves. Add a SunSmart reminder to your daily meetings and toolbox talks, including sharing the day’s Sun Protection Alert rating. Encourage supervisors and foremen to remind people to reapply sunscreen regularly, such as during each break. Read a case study about how the Port of Tauranga's use of the SPA has benefited its workers - and the wider community.

Remind people that sunscreen and sun protection PPE is available: There’s no point talking about using sunscreen and PPE if it’s not available or it’s no good (eg, non-breathable and too heavy for working in hot weather). Make instructions about how to apply sunscreen correctly visual, such as by sharing this video.

Add reminders in workplace communications: During the months when UV levels are high – generally the day light savings months of September to April – regularly insert a SunSmart graphic or message into emails and messages to your people. Use our SunSmart images and our short, adaptable articles, including one with information about avoiding #DumbBurn.

Put up notices and posters: There are plenty of SunSmart posters and other imagery available to post up in break and rest areas and the back of toilet doors. You could also provide a noticeboard in communal staff areas. Use our SunSmart posters and infographic.

Share our campaign material: It can be hard to change young people’s behaviours, including being SunSmart. The #DumbBurn campaign is aimed at young people (and outdoor workers), focusing on what motivates them to protect themselves (prevent the pain, hassle and embarrassment of sunburn). Also see resources - aimed primarily at male outdoor workers - that bust the myths about sun safety, and encourage people to check their skin for signs of cancer.

Regularly review what’s already in place: If you already have health and safety procedures and practices around being SunSmart, take another look at them. Are they practical? Does anything need to change? Are you doing them yourself? If you’re not, they may not be practical, so make some changes. Importantly, ask your people what they think – why aren’t they following SunSmart procedures and what do they think could be improved?

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