The long and the short of it

Risk Matters - Spring 2020

Picture of Katherine Kempin

Katherine Kempin

Senior OSH Consultant

Katherine provides professional occupational safety and health advice and support to LGIS
members. Support includes, but not limited to, safety inductions and training, workplace
inspections, OSH system audits, incident investigations, risk assessments, coordination of
the LGSAG Committee, and further advice and support on a range of safety matters.

With summer on its way, it’s important to focus on appropriate personal protective equipment to shield workers from the harmful effects of UV rays while maintaining wearer comfort.

One area that can cause some confusion is workers’ clothing choices and the debate over whether workers should wear longs (long sleeved shirts and long pants) or shorts (short-sleeved shirts and short pants).

The long and the short of it is – when it comes to protecting the skin from the harmful effects of the sun – the best option is usually longs. Longs can also provide a barrier to protect workers against negative impacts such as insect, reptile and animal bites, as well as abrasions, cuts and projectiles that could damage the skin.

A simple visual check can confirm that workers are adequately protected when performing their work tasks as longs provide consistent all day blocking of UV rays compared to sunscreen. Advancements in clothing material quality and technologies also means that workers are actually able to stay cooler and ultimately more comfortable when performing work tasks in hot environments compared to the use of sunscreen only.

For sunscreen to be effective workers must monitor its application, have the discipline to apply it throughout the day and be trained in the correct application. Sunscreen application should still be used when clothing cover cannot be provided, however it is a harder method of skin protection control.

In 2017, a former member of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) was successful in their workers compensation claim when diagnosed with skin cancer. A skin cancer clinician found that the repeated short bursts of sunburn the worker sustained whilst taking part in exercises within the Northern Territory, was a contributing factor.

Other sections in this season's Risk Matters

The long and the short of it

With summer on its way, it’s important to focus on appropriate personal protective equipment
to shield workers from the harmful effects of UV rays while maintaining wearer comfort.​

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In order for a similar workers’ compensation claim to be made against a local government, the worker would have to prove that:

  1. The local government had a duty of care
  2. They breached their duty of care
  3. The breach directly caused the skin cancer

If a local government still provides PPE that includes shorts and short-sleeved shirts and wants to better safeguard their workers with longs and prevent harm to health, consideration should be given, but not limited to:

  • Involve workers in the PPE selection process.
  • Talk to workers about the hazards of their role and obtain their feedback on identifying suitable ways to reduce risks.
  • Have a small group of workers trial different PPE before implementing through the entire workforce to make sure it’s problem free.
  • Train workers on the harmful effects of sun exposure and the correct use and care of PPE.

Such practices will better enable the transition to longs and longs to be as smooth as possible, provide better protection to workers safety and health and prevent future workers compensation claims.

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The answer will be different for every person, but local government is always at the heart of what turns a group of people into a community. It’s the gathering places of open spaces, playgrounds and sports facilities; it’s the library, community and recreation centres.

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