Are your workers safe in the sun?

With summer underway and temperatures rising, are safety and health practitioners ready to protect the skins of their outdoor workers?, asks  technical director of Uvistat Anthony Hubbard.
 
There are all sorts of myths and misconceptions flying around about how we should protect our skins from the sun’s harmful UV (ultra-violet) rays, whether out and about as part of our jobs or making the most of the warmer months in our leisure time. 
 
The stark facts are rates of malignant melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer have increased by 43% in the last 10 years, and in the UK, occurrences of malignant melanoma have increased almost five times in males and have more than tripled in females in the last 25 years.

This makes skin cancer the fastest rising cancer in Britain.
 
According the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, for adults, recreational or intermittent sun exposure appears to be the strongest determinant of melanoma risk.
 
With skin cancer on the increase, UV radiation represents a significant workplace hazard to employees who spend some, or all, of their working day outdoors. 
 
So, what does the law say about employers’ responsibility for ensuring that employees are adequately protected from the sun while working outside? 
 
Section 2.1 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, states that it is the duty of every employer ‘to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees’.

Section 3 says it is an employers’ duty to ensure that persons not under their direct employment should not be exposed to health and safety risks as they undertake their business. 
 
Section 2 states employers should provide ‘information, instruction, training and supervision as is necessary to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety at work of his employees’.
 
Under Section 7, which acknowledges the duty of every employee while at work, employees have a responsibility for their own safety and health and to ‘cooperate…as far as is necessary to enable that duty or requirement to be conformed or complied with’.
 
Finally, Section 9 lays down the ‘duty not to charge employers for things done or provided pursuant to certain specific requirements’.
 
Combined, these highlight the responsibility the employer has to bear when it comes to providing  sun protection and educating workers about the dangers of the sun, whilst the same time, the employee has a duty to listen and cooperate.

There are a number of measures safety and health practitioners can take to ensure the employer they represent is meeting the requirements of the Health and Safety at Work Act with regards to sun safety.

1. Include sun care advice and guidance as part of your routine health and safety training – tanned skin is a sign of sun damage and employers should aim to educate their staff of the facts about sun protection.

This can be supported by making suitable sun care provision to reinforce the message.

2. Provide sun protection products and clothing – workers should be encouraged to use sun protection product on any part of the body they can’t cover up.

The British Association of Dermatologists’ latest Sun Awareness guidelines recommend that outdoor workers use a sun cream of at least SPF 30. Make sure the product you source provides five star UVA protection.

The SPF indicator on product refers only to UVB protection, so whilst sunburn is mainly caused by UVB rays, research now shows that UVA rays may be just as, if not more, important in causing skin cancer.

Sun cream should be applied 30 minutes before exposure to the sun, re-applied every two hours and immediately after vigorous exercise, between 10am to 3pm.

If workers are sweating, the sun cream will gradually leave the skin, so regular application is vital for full protection.

3. Clothing – outdoor workers should be encouraged to cover up as much as possible, such as wearing lightweight long-sleeved shirts and trousers.

Encourage them to ‘light-check’ their clothing to ensure that the fabric is dense enough to prevent UV rays from passing through the fibres. Where possible, workers should also wear a hat with a 3 inch brim to cover the face, ears and neck.

4. Encourage behaviour change – employees should be encouraged and enabled to behave so that they can protect their skin from the sun.

It is important they find shade, particularly at lunchtimes when the sun is at its hottest and during all breaks. Site water points and rest areas in the shade. Consider whether flexible working hours can be introduced during the hottest months of the year.

5. Lead the way – safety and health practitioners are in an ideal place to influence, educate and encourage employees to stop and think seriously about the damage they could be doing to their health, every time they step outside to do another day’s hard work.

Your intervention now could save lives and reduce litigation in the future.
 
Providing sun protection has been made easier by a unique handy sachet developed by Uvistat which contains enough SPF30 sun lotion to cover the head, face, neck and arms of an average sized person.

This avoids carrying around a cumbersome bottle. All that’s required is a handful of sachets per person on a daily basis which can very easily be stored somewhere for use when required with two or three sachets being small enough to fit into a pocket.

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