Outdoor workers and sun exposure can be a risk to people working in construction and can rise in the summer months from high outdoor temperatures as well as from UV exposure. The harmful effects from the sun, like sunburn and skin cancer, come from UV radiation and if you work outdoors, you might be exposed to 2-3 times more UV radiation from the sun than someone who works indoors, putting you at higher risk of skin cancer.
Who is at risk?
Skin cancer is one of most common forms of cancer in the UK. Too much exposure to UV radiation from the sun
can cause skin damage including sunburn, blistering, skin ageing and in the long term could lead to skin cancer. Those with a family history of skin cancer (and those with pale skin/ fair hair) may be more at risk. According to research two-thirds of outdoor workers-including roofers, landscapers, electricians, builders and gardeners, do not realise they are at risk of getting skin cancer whilst at work. Although 90% of workers use sun cream on holiday, only 59% use it at work.
What are the harmful effects?
In the short term, even mild reddening of the skin from sun exposure is a sign of damage. Sunburn can blister the skin and make it peel and longer term problems can arise. Too much sun speeds up ageing of the skin, making it leathery, mottled and wrinkled, with the most serious effect is an increased chance of developing skin cancer.
Too much ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun can damage DNA in your skin cells and in the UK almost 9 in 10 cases of melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, could be prevented by staying safe in the sun and avoiding sunbeds. Research shows that getting sunburnt just once every two years can triple your risk of melanoma skin cancer, compared to never being burnt.
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 good news is that as an employer there is a lot you can do to communicate the importance of sun protection, and most of it is pretty simple. For example:
- Encourage workers to keep covered up during the summer months, even if only a short-sleeved shirt, especially at lunchtime when the sun is at its hottest.
- Make sure outdoor workers are wearing a protective hat, ideally one with a brim or a flap that covers the ears and the back of the neck.
- Encourage workers to use (and potentially provide) sunscreen of at least SPF (sun protection factor) 15, and ideally higher, on any part of the body they can’t cover up.
- Make sure workers stay in the shade whenever possible, especially during breaks and during the hours of 11am – 3pm when the sun is at its highest. A good way to do this is to site water points and rest areas in the shade.
- Consider scheduling work to minimise exposure, for example adjusting shifts to earlier or later in the day.
- Encourage workers to drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration, and make sure they have access to a regular water supply.
- Providing canopies, sheeting or similar covering over open areas such as building sites-shaded areas should also be provided for breaks.
For further information on outdoor workers and sun exposure, please contact us here.