It has recently been reported that there are now new health and safety regulations for working in the sun in Saudi Arabia. From now until mid September workers will not be permitted to work in the sun from the hours of noon to 3pm daily. Oil, gas and emergency workers are exempt from the rule, although precautions will be taken to protect them in the sun. However, there is speculation as to whether these new rules will be enforced and laborers fear their wages will be cut. This is just one situation of where there is no doubt that excessive exposure to the sun is a hazard to health when not correctly managed. Worldwide, wherever one may be, it is the employer’s duty to reduce health risks due to worker exposure to the sun. UV radiation is an occupational hazard to those who work outdoors.
In the UK, there are over 40,000 new cases of skin cancer diagnosed each year. Although everybody is at risk of sun damage, those more vulnerable are those with fair skin, red hair, freckles and with a family history of skin cancer. Workers of Asian or Afro-Caribbean origins are less at risk; however the sun can still damage eyes and cause skin aging. And, all that work in the sun are at risk of dehydration. Occupations that keep people out in the sun include construction workers, market gardeners, farmers and outdoor activity workers. Although the UK has generally a temperate climate, sun protection is definitely needed, especially in the summer months.
How to protect oneself when working in the sun
- Routine sun protection advice should be available as part of general health and safety training. Workers should understand that a tan is not healthy, it is a sign that the skin has been damaged by the sun
- Avoid work at midday as the sun can be at its hottest then. If this is unavoidable, workers should cover up with a long sleeved shirt. The practice of taking ones top off when working in the sun is not sensible. Wearing a large brimmed floppy hat will protect the ears and neck. A sunscreen of an SPF of at least 15 should be used on the areas one cannot cover with clothing
- Workers should take breaks frequently and do so in the shade
- There should be site water points, with encouragement to drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration
- Scheduling work in shift patterns to minimize exposure to the sun could be an option if there are many workers. The working day could be scheduled so there is some indoor and some outdoor work, if this is practicable
- Workers should be encouraged to check their skin regularly for any unusual spots or moulds. If a spot or mold is suspicious, medical attention should be sought immediately, it might be nothing but best to sure. Even mild reddening is a sign of sun damage
- Outside of work, one should take care of their skin when they go on holiday as the skin remembers every sun exposure