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Preventing and Treating Sunburns

Many employees work outside, unknowingly exposing themselves to harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. In fact, even on a cloudy day, outdoor workers can capture up to 80% of UV rays. On a hot, sunny day, UV rays can be even more intense–potentially causing exposed workers to experience a red, painful skin reaction, also known as sunburn.

Sunburn occurs after excessive exposure to UV rays. The symptoms of sunburn often appear a few hours following initial exposure and typically peak between six and 36 hours after such exposure. Sunburn symptoms are usually temporary and subside in three to five days. However, sunburn can cause permanent damage to the skin’s DNA. Further, all it takes is just one bad sunburn to cause long-lasting damage and increase the risk of skin cancer. As a result, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) asserts that 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer at some point in their lives.

Nevertheless, there are steps that employees like you can take to prevent sunburns while working outside. Specifically, the AAD recommends using the “ABC” method to lessen the risk of sun damage. This method entails the following action items:

  • Away—Keep away from direct sunlight and try to avoid prolonged exposure—especially during periods when UV rays are the strongest (usually between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.).
  • Block—If you must work outside, be sure to use sunblock, which should be a minimum of SPF 30. Apply sunblock 30 minutes before sun exposure, and reapply it liberally every two hours throughout the day.
  • Cover up—In addition to applying sunblock, wear appropriate clothing—such as long sleeves, hats or sunglasses—to keep your skin and eyes safe from exposure to UV rays.

If you do experience sunburn, apply aloe gel or 1% hydrocortisone cream to the affected area. Consider taking acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain management, and drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.

If your job requires you to be outside, it’s imperative to avoid getting sunburn. Following the proper precautions can make all the difference in keeping your skin safe.

For further guidance on safety in the sun, consult your supervisor.