How Australia Post improved their sun safe practices for their workers
Delivering for Australians for 211 years, Australia Post not only has responsibility to the country with its community service obligations, but to its workers by providing a healthy and safe work environment. This includes providing adequate protection from the hazards Australia Post staff may be subject to when working in an outdoor environment. Solar UV radiation is one such hazard.
In the years leading up to 2004, Australia Post was meeting what was then industry standard practices regarding sun protection and provided its workforce with training and equipment that was considered appropriate for the time.
In 2003, Australia Post commissioned research which quantitatively assessed the solar UV exposure of outdoor workers, including postal delivery officers. One of the key findings was that solar UV exposures exceeded the safe levels for most of the year from Sydney to far north Australia and between October and March in the south of Australia. In addition, sunscreen of SPF 30+ was found to be inadequate for regular outdoor work that is in excess of two hours.
While Australia Post had been fulfilling its WHS obligations, these findings made it clear that the national postal service’s outdoor workforce needed more UV protection, resulting in the delivery of improved sun protection practices.
As sunscreen had been identified as inadequate for outdoor work in excess of two hours, there were some things that could be implemented quickly, such as introducing an earlier start time in summer and on extreme UV days to avoid being out in the sun in the middle of the day.
Clothing was identified as the most practical answer to blocking out UV for posties and other outdoor workers; however, any change to their uniforms would have to use a fabric that would not increase exposure to other risks — such as abrasions and heat exhaustion.
To balance these risks, a microfibre was adopted for the shirt and a dark heavy drill cotton was used for the pants.
However, compromises had to be made with these choices. Full-length pants, ideal for sun protection, increased risk to heat exposure so, in the warmer and more tropical locations, a three-quarter-length pant could be worn. Whereas the ultraviolet protective factor (UPF) of the Australia Post work shirts needed to be increased to a UPF 50 rating to reduce any risk of UV exposure on their backs.
To arrive at these compromises and ultimately introduce these changes, it was important that all parties understood and were involved in the approach. Consultation was undertaken with management, union and workforce to provide them with a full understanding of the risks that were present.
This step was important as it helped to create a sun protection policy that considers the priorities of the workforce and strikes a balance between the multiple high-priority risks. Most importantly, it created a safer workplace.
Australia Post continues to look at ways to increase sun safety.
Since implementing these changes, further developments have been made to Australia Post’s sun safety approach such as adding the legionnaires flap to protect the neck and looking at road freight service uniforms to protect these workers against sun exposure from vehicle windows.
The new fleet of electric delivery vehicles being rolled out across the country is one example, offering significant sun protection via a roof canopy while also offering a safer way of delivering letters and parcels than a motorcycle.
Setting the standard
Australia Post is a part of every Australian community and posties are on the street every day — so a key additional benefit to the organisation’s focus on workforce safety is the opportunity to provide one of the best examples of how to prevent risk to UV exposure.
As a result, the changes that were introduced not only improve the working environment for Australia Post workers, they help to raise awareness of sun protection and safety in communities across the country.
This article was originally published in the National Safety magazine by the NSCA Foundation, a not-for-profit work health and safety association. Since 1927, NSCA Foundation has been committed to inspire, educate, and engage the Australian work health and safety profession to create sustainably safe and healthy workplaces. For more information, visit www.nscafoundation.org.au.