Even in the temperate climate of the UK, working in the sun and hot weather presents risks to your health, which are heightened for those who work outside. One of the most serious risks is skin cancer. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the world, with occupational UV exposure being an attributable factor in one death and five new cases of skin cancer per week in Britain.
HSE guidelines state that UV radiation should be considered an occupational hazard for those who work outdoors. Therefore, employers of outdoor workers have a legal duty to safeguard, as far is reasonably practical, their employees from the effects of UV radiation.
In surveys conducted by SC Johnson Professional, only one in four outdoor workers reported wearing sun cream at work, with the most common reason for not doing so being the effort of applying it.
There are several ways to keep yourself and your employees safe from the effects of UV radiation exposure when working outdoors:
- Keep a supply of sun cream of at least SPF15 in a convenient location, for example at the doorway of farm buildings. Sun cream wall dispensers can be used for ease. Sun cream should be reapplied throughout the day.
- Stay covered up, with lightweight trousers and long sleeved top.
- 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, and during your breaks and especially at lunch time and during the hottest part of the day.
- 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
Extra care should be taken in the sun 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.
Working in the heat presents an additional set of risks, such as exhaustion and heat stroke.
Steps that you can take to protect yourself:
- Stay hydrated - keep a bottle of water on you.
- Avoid dehydrating liquids, such as alcohol, tea, coffee and caffeinated soft drinks, which can hurt more than help.
- Wear lightweight, light coloured and loose fitting clothing to help protect against heat, changing clothing if it gets completely saturated.
- Pace yourself. Slow down and work at an even pace. Know your limits and work safely in heat. If possible, avoid work at the hottest time of day. Work in the shade if you can.
- Schedule frequent rest and water breaks, in shaded or air conditioned areas.
- Use a damp rag to wipe your face or put it around your neck.
- Avoid getting sun burn - cover up, apply sun cream and follow the advice above.
- Avoid direct sun as much as possible.
- Eat cold foods, particularly fruit and salads with high water content.
- Be alert to signs of heat-related illness. Know what to look for and look out for others working with you. Signs include headaches, dizzy spells, loss of appetite and nausea, excessive sweating, cramps in the arms, legs and stomach, fast breathing and pulse, a temperature above 38C, and intense thirst.
Steps that employers can take to protect workers include:
- Rescheduling work to cooler times of the day.
- Providing more frequent rest breaks and introducing shading to rest areas.
- Providing free access to cool drinking water.
- Introducing shading in areas where individuals are working.
- Encouraging the removal of personal protective equipment when resting to help encourage heat loss.
- Educating workers about recognising the early symptoms of heat stress.
- The HSE has produced a leaflet containing guidance for employers of outdoor workers: Sun protection, advice for employers of outdoor workers
- The NHS provides guidance on spotting and treating heat exhaustion and heat stroke and recognising the signs of skin cancer (melanoma)
- Macmillan provides information on spotting the signs and symptoms of skin cancer, and what to do if you notice skin changes.
- The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) has provided downloadable guidance on controlling sun exposure at work, and spotting the risks of skin cancer: Stay safe in the sun.