Burning issue: sun safety at work

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Burning issue: sun safety at work

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With an estimated 5.5 million workers being exposed to solar radiation through their job and almost 50 people dying of skin cancer following sun exposure at work in the UK every year, employers have a duty of care to develop sun safety strategies.

Research suggests that there are nearly 250 cases of malignant melanoma registered each year by outdoor workers, such as those who work in construction, agriculture and leisure.  In 2014, a gardener took Middlesbrough Council to court after developing ‘actinic keratosis’ (AK), a skin lesion said to be caused by solar ultraviolet radiation damage.

IOSH executive director of policy Shelley Frost said: ‘Work-related skin cancer is avoidable but businesses and their employees hold the key to beating it and today we are showing them how it can be done.’

The Health and Safety Executive highlight that people with the following appearances are most at risk of developing skin cancer:

  • Fair or freckled skin that doesn’t tan, or goes red or burns before it tans;
  • Red or fair hair and light coloured eyes;
  • A large number of moles

Education is important as research carried out by the University of Nottingham showed that two thirds of construction workers who are outside for an average of seven hours a day didn’t think they were at risk or were unsure if they were.  More than half of those surveyed also reported getting sun burnt at least once in the last year, which is a significant contributor to skin cancer.  Researchers also identified a ‘macho culture’ in some parts of the construction industry, as well as misconceptions regarding the threat of UVR in the UK’s climate, as there was a lack of awareness of the fact that cloud cover does not provide complete protection from solar radiation.

It is therefore important that employers put together sun safety strategies that should implement the following:

  • Keeping employees updated on the UV index from weather forecasts;
  • Trying to minimise exposure to the mid-day sun (by scheduling lunch breaks during this time);
  • Encouraging employees to war long-sleeved, loose-fitting tops and trousers were possible and where not, encouraging employees to wear suitable sun protection cream.

The Health and Safety Executive also has some additional tips for outdoor workers:

  • Wear a hat with a brim or a flap that covers the ears and the back of the next
  • Use a high factor sunscreen (at least SPF15) on any exposed skin
  • Drink lots of water to avoid dehydration
  • Regularly check your skin for any unusual moles or spots. If you notice anything that is changing in shape, size or colour, itching or bleeding, see your doctor promptly.

To encourage your outdoor workers to use sunscreen you could even provide them with the excellent ‘Solar Buddies’ sunscreen applicator which allows them to apply sunscreen whilst at work easily and mess free.  For more information on the ‘Solar Buddies’ sunscreen applicator visit their website, www.solarbuddies.co.uk, or if you would like to purchase them for your employees email either laura@solarbuddies.co.uk or kelli@solarbuddies.co.uk.

For expert advice on this and other HR issues, please contact me on 01656 630 010 / 07753 496063 or send an email to ami@aible.co.uk.


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