Over this weekend Britain is basking in the hottest temperatures recorded this year so far. Most of the UK is currently enjoying temperatures in the mid to high 20s. The forecast is for highs of up to 30C in some parts of southern England tomorrow. These temperatures are set to stay over the next week. Parts of southern England are expected to be warmer than the Carribbean. This weekends Wimbledon finals will have sweltering conditions and the Rolling Stones will find the sun unbearable in Hyde Park.
But what about those of us who have to work outdoors in the sun? Some employees jobs keep them outdoors for long periods of time, such as building site workers, farmers, and market gardeners etc. This is in contrast to people who work in offices and shops and so only really see the sun fully when they are on holiday. Exposure to ultra violet radiation can cause sunburn, blistering, and, long term exposure can lead to skin cancer. Skin cancer is one of the most diagnosed cancers in the UK; 50,000 cases are reported every year. UV radiation should be considered an occupational hazard for those working outside. Workers with pale skin are most at risk form skin cancer, but those with dark skin should still take care to avoid dehydration and skin damage caused by the sun. A tan is not healthy, it is a sign that the skin has already been damaged by the sun. A number of medications can increase sensitivity to the sun, these include antibiotics, drugs for high blood pressure and anti-depressents, among others. Photosensitivity to UV radiation can also occur when in contact with dyes, coal tar and some plants.
Employers duty of care
Employers have a legal duty to protect their workers under the Health and Safety at Work Act (1974) and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (1999). Managers responsible for employees working in the sun need to factor in this as part of their risk assessment for working in this environment. The following should be considered:
- Reschedule work to cooler times of the day
- Provide more frequent rest breaks and introduce shading in rest areas
- Provide free access to drinking water
- Shading should be introduced in areas where individuals are working
- PPE should be removed when resting to encourage heat loss
- Workers should be educated on the symptoms of early heat stress
- As part of health and safety inductions there should be advice on managing how to work in ths sun
General care in the sun
- Stay in the shade whenever possible, during your breaks and especially at lunch time
- Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration
- Wear full covering tightly woven fabrics
- wear a hat with brim or flop that covers ears and back of neck
- One needs to use a high factor sunscreen such as SPF of 15
- The skin should be checked regularily for any unusual moles or spots
- One should avoid even slight reddening of the skin as this is an early sign of burning
- Do continue to take care when you go on holiday – your skin remembers every exposure
- Don’t try to get a tan – it’s not a healthy sign. It might look good but it indicates that the skin has already been damaged. A suntan does not eliminate the longterm cancer risk which is associated with prolonged exposure to the sun; nor will it protect against premature ageing.