Although working outside in this current spell of hot weather may seem ideal to some, the risk to health is extremely important for staff and employers alike. Working outdoors means you are more likely to be exposed to large amounts of harmful UVA and UVB rays. The former penetrates deep into the skin and leads to premature ageing, whilst the latter burns the upper layers of the skin. Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun can cause skin damage including sunburn, blistering, skin ageing and in the long term can lead to skin cancer. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the UK, with over 40 000 new cases diagnosed each year.
Yet according to research only two-thirds of outdoor workers-including roofers, landscapers, electricians, builders and gardeners-don’t realise they are at risk of getting skin cancer whilst at work, and although 90% of workers use sun cream on holiday, only 59% use it at work.
Who is at risk?
People with pale skin are most at risk of skin damage, especially those with fair or red hair, with a lot of freckles or with a family history of skin cancer. People with brown or black skin are at low risk but people of all skin colours can suffer from overheating and dehydration.
Advice for employers
The Management of Health and Work Regulations require employers to conduct a suitable assessment of the risks to the health of their employees-for example, the risks associated with UV exposure. The law also states that an employer has to remove any risk or look at other ways of preventing or reducing exposure if that is not possible, this includes supplying protective equipment or clothing, if necessary. To reduce the risks associated with excessive sun exposure, employers should look at working practices rather than just putting the responsibility on the worker. This includes:
- Organising work in summer so tasks which require employees to be outside can be done either in the mornings, late afternoon or on cloudy days.
- Providing canopies, sheeting or similar covering over open areas such as building sites-shaded areas should also be provided for breaks.
- Providing information and guidance on avoiding exposure to harmful UV rays, both as part of the employee’s induction and on an on-going basis.
- Ensuring any protective clothing is lightweight, long-sleeved and comfortable-but at the same time dense enough to prevent UV rays from getting through.
- Providing lightweight brimmed hats for all outdoor workers.
- Encouraging workers to reapply sun protection frequently and providing dispensers with sun cream for employees to use.
As an employer, you can only do so much, however, creating a culture where staff are informed on the risks of being in direct sunlight for most of the day and what to do in order to stay safe will greatly increase workplace well-being.
Advice for workers
Keep your top on and wear a hat with a brim or a flap that covers the ears and the back of the neck. Staying in the shade whenever possible, during your breaks and especially at lunch time is advisable as is keeping yourself hydrated. Use a high factor sunscreen of at least SPF15 on any exposed skin and reapply frequently.
For further information on sun safety for outdoor workers, please contact us here.