Working safely in the sun
It is no news that this summer has been one of the hottest and sunniest for a long time, and it is essential to think about working safely in the sun. As it is now a sunnier time of year, those who (control) work outside should think about working safely in the sun. When working outdoors the effects of the weather in this environment can potentially have a very serious impact on an employee’s welfare if the risks have never been previously considered or managed properly. This impact may be immediate or it can occur over a long time period of time. Exposure to the sun can cause skin damage including sunburn, blistering and skin ageing and in the long term can lead to an increased risk of skin cancer. Skin cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer in the UK with over 50,000 new cases every year.
Each year many people suffer, unnecessarily, from sunburn and over 2300 people die from skin cancer caused by sun exposure.
What are the dangers of working in the sun?
In the short term … sunburn can blister your skin and make it peel, but even mild reddening is a sign of skin damage.
In the long term … too much sun will speed up the ageing of your skin, making it leathery, mottled and wrinkled, but the most serious effect is an increased chance of developing skin cancer.
Abnormal reactions to sunlight … Some medicines, contact with some chemicals used at work (such as dyes, wood preservatives, coal-tar and pitch products), and contact with some plants, can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight. Your works doctor or family doctor should be able to advise you further.
Who is at risk (or at higher risk) of skin cancer?
Some people are more liable to skin cancers than others. People with white skin are at most risk. Take particular care if you have:
- fair or freckled skin that doesn’t tan, or goes red or burns before it tans;
- red or fair hair and light coloured eyes;
- a large number of moles – 50 or more.
While it is considered that workers of Asian or Afro-Caribbean origin are less at risk, they should still take care in the sun to avoid damage to eyes, skin ageing and dehydration.
Working safely in the sun – What can you do to protect your Staff?
- Reschedule work to cooler times of the day
- Provide more frequent rest breaks and introduce shading to rest areas
- Provide free access to cool drinking water
- Look to provide shade in certain work
- Ensure your staff always wear a safety helmet on site (if required), which also provides sun protection for your head.
- Educate workers about recognising the early symptoms of heat stress
- Include sun protection advice in routine health and safety training.
Working safely in the sun – What can your employees do to protect themselves?
- Keep your top on.
- Wear a hat with a brim or a flap that covers the ears and the back of the neck.
- Stay in the shade whenever possible, during your breaks and especially at lunchtime.
- Use a high factor sunscreen of at least SPF15 on any exposed skin.
- Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.
- Check your skin regularly for any unusual moles or spots. See a doctor promptly if you find anything that is changing in shape, size or colour, itching or bleeding.
- Take their breaks in the shade and refrain from sunbathing.
Link to the HSE leaflet: Sun Protection
Michael acted as health and safety training consultant on Croner’s Health and Safety Training Resource, and also contributed a number of updates and in-depth articles to other publications, all to a high standard. Experienced and helpful, and always a pleasure to work with.
Tim Gilpin, Croner (Wolters Kluwer), Kingston-upon-Thames