Your business could be scorched if you don’t take adequate precautions to protect your outside workers from the damaging effects of the sun’s rays. The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) has just launched the latest phase of its No Time to Lose campaign, with the focus on solar radiation as a carcinogen. On average five people in the UK every day will be diagnosed with skin cancer contracted at work. It’s an avoidable disease, yet an occupational risk that’s given little attention in the work place.
The majority of us associate sun protection with a day at the beach or a sunshine holiday, but the reality is that the risks to holiday-makers are nothing compared to the dangers faced by outdoor workers. Despite this, in many sectors there is a failure to acknowledge or properly manage the risks associated with prolonged exposure to the sun.
The No Time to Lose campaign is far-reaching to include anyone working outside in the sun as outdoor work does not have to be full-time to pose a problem. Those most at risk are typically employed in agriculture and construction, the maritime industries and grounds and landscape management.
Sunburn is a reaction to over exposure of UV radiation and sun exposure is the main cause of skin cancer. Although this is widely acknowledged, there is still a desire to achieve a sun-kissed complexion in addition to a ‘macho’ culture in the face of certain risks in the some parts of the construction sector. Fifty nine per cent of construction workers reported having sunburn at least once in the last year. Most failed to protect themselves against sun exposure and just over 40 per cent thought there was no need to wear sunscreen on a cloudy day. No wonder then that cases of skin cancer generally are rising faster in the UK than in the rest of Europe.
However, from an occupational perspective, it is difficult to achieve accurate estimates of workers exposed to solar radiation. In Great Britain an estimated 5.5 million people have been exposed to the sun’s rays through their work. According to Cancer Research UK outdoor workers are at higher risk from non-melanoma skin cancer (43 per cent higher risk of basal cell carcinoma and 77 per cent high risk of squamous cell carcinoma). Most deaths occur amongst men and just under half those diagnosed with malignant melanoma are linked to occupational exposures and are aged under 65.
Remember! Skin cancer is an avoidable disease. 90 per cent of skin cancer deaths could be prevented if exposure to UV is controlled. Tackling solar radiation exposure is not necessarily costly and can be relatively easy to achieve.
Actions to control exposure
• Check the UV index from the weather forecast, communicate information to relevant workers and prompt them to use protective measures to minimise exposure
• Avoid or minimise exposure to direct sunlight in the middle of the day – 60 per cent of daily UV radiation occurs between 10am and 2pm
• Swap job tasks between workers so members of the team can regularly spend time in the shade
• Use heavy-duty cover or shade when working outdoors in the sun
• Ensure rest breaks are taken indoors or in shaded areas. Water points in shaded areas can help encourage breaks to be taken out of the sun
• If employees are regularly driving during high UV months, add UV protective films or tints to plain glass vehicle windows if they are not laminated
• Raise awareness of solar radiation issues with workers. Help may be found at www.notimetolose.org.uk
• If possible ask employees to cover up with long sleeved, loose-fitting tops and trousers when working outdoors during months with high UV levels
• Wear wide-brimmed hats that shade the face, head, ears and neck or if safety helmets are worn, use those fitted with flaps to protect the neck
• Wear sunglasses with 100 per cent UV protection or use UV filtering safety goggles with the same level of protection if the work requires physical eye protection. Look for the ‘UV’ marking
• Use high factor sunscreen where the skin can’t be protected by other measures e.g. on the hands, face and lips.
As an employer it is your responsibility to ensure the safety of your staff, this includes encouraging them to check their skin for changes to moles or other changes. Detecting the early signs of skin cancer and undergoing early treatment can save lives.
Reference: Safety & Health Practitioner May 2015.
Skin cancer kills 60 outside workers a year in GB. Are your outside workers protected from the sun? Info on www.notimetolose.org.uk