CEO Spotlight: The Trade Shade’s Sean Conneely on the current state of worker safety in Australia, UV radiation, and why everyone should wear sunscreen daily

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According to the Cancer Council of Australia, skin cancer is the most common cancer in Australia, with over 434,000 new cases diagnosed each year. The sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation causes approximately 99 per cent of them.

The danger is substantially higher for tradies, who regularly operate outside in hazardous conditions. In fact, according to a recent study, tradies are more than twice as likely to develop skin cancer compared to the general population.

Sean Conneely understands this all too well. Sean works as an electrician, and his worksite experiences and a recent cancer scare spurred him to create a game-changing solution and launch his own company, The Trade Shade.

Conneely shares more about the present situation of trade people’s health and safety in Australia, the rise in melanoma cases and deaths, and why everyone should apply sunscreen every day and stay in the shade where possible.

How would you describe your company to someone who has never heard of it?

Conneely: The Trade Shade is a local Australian company that provides the ideal solution for protecting electricians, refrigeration mechanics, plumbers, diesel mechanics, and plant machinery technicians while working. Our best-selling product, The Magnetic Umbrella Holder, is designed tough for the working tradesman. Built to handle extreme heat, wet weather, and windy conditions, the product is guaranteed to create game-changing element protection in just about every situation you throw at it.

What circumstances led to The Trade Shade’s creation?

Conneely: I’ve only been an electrician in the electrical and air conditioning industries for 8 years, so I’m far from a seasoned tradie. But I can tell you that the time I spent working in the sun was enough to convince me that there must be a better choice for us tradies pounding out hours of fault-finding and installations in the sun and rain. A few too many of these hot days at work, and The Trade Shade was born.

After a few awkward prototypes in the basement car park of my rental apartment, cutting down steel pipe with an angle grinder at 7 pm backed by plenty of hours of research and development, I finally constructed a prototype that I was semi-satisfied with. Putting my ego aside, I distributed a couple of the original prototypes to friends with clear instructions to provide whatever feedback they had. Let me tell you, if you have friends like mine, you will not be short of criticism.

After a few beers, a few laughs, and some constructive criticism, important changes were made that transformed The Trade Shade into what it is today.

How serious is the skin cancer situation for tradies in Australia?

Conneely: Many of us tradespeople, including myself, don’t really notice that we spend hours in the sun. A few hours on one job and another hour on another add up to a full day in the sun, almost every single day.

It turns out that all of those “I’ll be right mate, I’ll only be out here for a half hour,” take a toll on our skin.

A recent survey commissioned by Cancer Council Australia and the Australian Government has revealed an unseen risk that many tradies are not protecting themselves against.

Over 30% of the 600 tradies polled stated they rarely used sunscreen in the summer. I’m not proud to admit it, but I’d definitely fall into that 30%.

Before Trade Shade, I actually went to the doctor once for a checkup, and they discovered a dark area on my back. They had to remove about an inch-long section on my back, which luckily recovered. I’ve made it a habit to miss the pub one Friday a year to get my skin checked since.

It’s frightening that one-third of tradies have been treated for skin cancer or a suspicious mark, and more than half of us know someone who has been diagnosed with skin cancer.

What role does the government play in all of this?

Conneely: The health minister recently said that the government had invested in campaigns to remind Australians of the need to ‘Slip, Slop, Slap, Seek and Slide’ when UV was three or higher. 

SafeWork Australia is also cracking down on employers that are not providing their workers with the proper tools, clothing, and accessories to minimise sun exposure. 

Union leaders are also telling everyone to cease all operations when temperatures are scorching.

As the country with the highest rate of skin cancer in the world, it starts with employees and employers to make a change in the way we look at skin cancer and sun protection at work.

What are your future plans for the company?

Conneely: By mid-September, we have plans to release a specially designed square UV umbrella. After many months of designing the new umbrella, it’s clear this will be a favorite with tradies and technicians coming into the summer months. We have also teamed up with the National Skin Cancer Centres Australia to encourage more tradies to willingly undergo a skin check.

The past two years haven’t exactly been the ideal years to try and launch a business, but with a bit of persistence, support, and most of my weekly wages, we jumped the hurdles that many new businesses face. With an idea and a bit of free time, I designed a product that is a simple, cost-effective, and portable shading and element protection solution, with a clear goal to make tradies’ lives, including mine, safer and hopefully more comfortable at work.

With a bit of luck and a bit of awareness, I hope we can shade and protect tradies all across the country.

Finally, what do you want to communicate to your fellow tradespeople and employers who could be interested in your product?

Conneely: From one tradie to another, it starts with us to make a difference to our own health at work. Skin cancer is a very real threat to our health as outdoor workers in Australia, and it’s something that is often overlooked until it’s too late. Make a start today and apply sunscreen, dress appropriately, seek out some shade where possible, and definitely book yourself in for a skin check. If you’re a tradie who works on mechanical or electrical equipment, check out The Trade Shade. Try one out and let your mates know what a difference it makes at work.

To the bosses, if you care about your employees and want to be compliant when WorkSafe comes by, the Trade Shade is the perfect addition to your team’s toolbox. Maintain sun protection safety regulations while keeping your workforce working hard in perfect comfort in every outdoor scenario. Happy inspector, happy crew, and happy you.

The Trade Shade’s The Magnetic Umbrella Holder is priced at $59.95 and can be purchased at their website or at major hardware stores. 

Sean Conneely