Creating a sun safe workplace

Learn how to protect your outdoor workforce from harmful UV radiation and promote a sun-safe environment with our advice for employers. Discover ways to safeguard employees’ health and well-being while they work in the sun.

author

James Rowland

Commercial Director James leads Account Management, Sales and Marketing at Neathouse Partners.

Date

07 May 2024

Updated

11 July 2024
6 min read
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Creating a sun safe workplace
9:59

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 makes it clear that every employer has a legal duty to ensure, as far as reasonably practical, the health of their employees. It also states that employers must provide “information, instruction, training and supervision”, to ensure their safety.

With Sun Awareness Week in mind, which raises the awareness of sun protection and protecting the skin from cancer, this article explores how employers can take steps to uphold their legal duty and keep workers safe, even when they work outdoors in the sun for long periods.

What is Sun Awareness Week?

Sun Awareness Week 2024 takes place from 6 – 12 May, and aims to raise awareness of and help combat the issue of skin cancer. It’s very important to raise public awareness of sun protection and skin health, especially in warmer months when the sun is much hotter and more intense.

The initiative kicks off a comprehensive summer campaign, giving people the essential information they need in order to practice correct sun safety. 2024’s campaign focuses on spotlighting non-melanoma skin cancer, and urges people to adopt regular skin checks as a vital preventive measure against skin cancer. This is something employers could encourage outdoor workers to do, and even offer to pay for free appointments.

Why is a sun safe workplace important?

 


Over-exposure to the sun and UV rays can have a very negative impact on your skin, and can lead to cancers such as non-melanoma and melanoma, sun spots and skin damage. Taking frequent shade breaks, covering up with layers and hats and applying sun cream frequently can help protect the skin from the sun’s harmful rays. UV radiation from the sun is the main cause of skin cancer. With this in mind, it’s very important that employers do everything in their power to protect employees and keep them safe.  

In an alarming statistic based on research from a YouGov survey in April 2023, it’s been revealed by the British Safety Council that 30 per cent of outdoor workers in the UK never apply UV protection cream while at work. A third (34 per cent) of respondents claimed that nothing would encourage them to do so, which only highlights the great challenge faced by employers in ensuring sun safety.


Why is it important for employers to provide sun protection for outdoor workers?

Employers can fulfil their duty of care and raise awareness of sun protection by providing good quality sun cream to workers who work outdoors. Sun protection (UV) cream can be placed at workplace entrances and exits in pumping bottles, so it can be quickly and easily applied when needed.
 
One in three cancers that are diagnosed are some type of skin cancer, and every time a person gets burned in the sun, they increase their risk of getting skin cancer. According to the same YouGov survey, a third of workers don’t think that sun protection is necessary. 28 per cent also claimed that they don’t burn easily, and this was their main reason for not using protection. 

Once the UV index reaches three or more, a person should protect themselves from the sun. In the UK during the summer, UV levels easily go beyond level three, and rays can be strong enough to cause skin cancer between the months of April through to September. Even on cloudy days, sun protection should still be worn, as 80% of UVA rays pass through clouds, and still have the potential to burn skin. Outdoor employees should be encouraged by employers to wear sun cream on places like legs, arms, face and neck in these warmer months, and to protect their face all year round by wearing sun cream. The cream should be reapplied every two hours as a minimum.

16 per cent of those surveyed who didn’t use sun protection at work claimed that they didn’t do so because their employer didn’t provide it. Having available sun protection from an employer was only claimed by 24 per cent of surveyed workers. 22 per cent of those surveyed said that if sun protection was available, they would use it and encourage others to do so.

Aside from providing sun cream, employers can also help outdoor workers by providing protective clothing such as long sleeve cotton tops or shirts, trousers or longer style shorts, and hats that are wide brimmed to protect from UV rays.


Common myths about sun exposure

 


1. People with dark skin don’t need to wear sun cream

Darker skin tones do have more melanin, which offers some natural protection against UV radiation, but that doesn’t make the skin invincible to sun damage. People with darker skin can still suffer from sunburns, skin damage and an increased risk of skin cancer if they don’t use sunscreen or cover up. There’s a common misconception that dark-skinned people are somehow immune to sun damage, which can can lead to the neglect of sun protection measures, putting them at risk. Sunscreen is important and should be applied by everyone, regardless of skin colour.

2. Tanning is always safe, as long as you don’t burn

There’s also a common myth that if you don’t experience visible sunburn, tanning your skin by sitting in the sun is harmless. Any change in skin colour (such as redness due to UV exposure), is an indication of skin damage. When skin cells are exposed to UV radiation, they produce more melanin as a defence mechanism, which creates a tan. While tanning in this way may look nice, it causes DNA damage, which can increase the risk of skin cancer over time, regardless of whether or not sunburn occurs. Tanning also causes premature ageing, wrinkles, dark spots and skin cancer.

3. You can only burn in summer months

Although the sun may be hiding behind the clouds and the skies may be grey, UV radiation is present throughout the year, regardless of temperature or weather conditions. UVB rays, which are responsible for sunburn, are obviously more intense in the summer months. But UVA rays, which penetrate the skin more deeply and contribute to premature ageing and skin cancer, remain constant throughout the year. This means that sunburn is still a possibility even on overcast or cloudy days, as UV rays can penetrate cloud cover. UV reflection from snow, water and sand can also increase the risk of sunburn during winter or cooler seasons.

 

4. You can’t get sunburn through glass (such as a car window)

Glass can block UVB rays, which cause sunburn, but it doesn’t give you protection against UVA rays. UVA rays can penetrate glass, leading to skin damage over time. This means that even if you’re indoors, such as in a car or office with windows, you’re still exposed to UVA radiation. Prolonged exposure to UVA rays through glass windows without protection can contribute to premature wrinkles, ageing and an increased risk of skin cancer.

5. Wearing clothing can fully protect you from the sun

Clothing can provide you with some level of sun protection, but not all fabrics offer the same level of defence against UV radiation. UV rays can penetrate very thin fabrics, increasing the risk of sunburn and skin damage. Wet clothing can also lose its protective abilities, so if you jump into a swimming pool in a t-shirt, you’re more likely to get burned, even though you’re covering up. It’s essential to choose clothing with a tight weave and darker colours for better UV protection. Wearing a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses and seeking shade at the hottest times of the day are important.

woman working on a video production outdoors in the sun

6. Sunscreen is only necessary during sunny days

It’s important to use sun cream every day, regardless of the weather or planned activities. If you plan on going outside, it’s important to protect yourself from UV radiation, as this can penetrate clouds, and even indoor activities near windows can expose you to UVA rays. Sun protection is crucial for maintaining healthy skin and preventing sun damage.


Staying safe in the sun – tips employers can offer:

 


Here are five simple tips you can give outdoor workers to help them stay safe in the sun:

  • Wear protective, dark clothing.
  • Wear sun protection, and re-apply cream every two hours.
  • Wear sunglasses to prevent eye damage from the sun’s powerful rays.
  • Limit your time in the sun between the peak hours of 10am – 4pm.
  • Take frequent breaks in the shade.

 

What are the HSE guidelines for working in the sun?

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) issues the following guidance to workers working in the sun. This is advice that should be encouraged by employers in order to keep employees safe.

  • Even in very hot weather, wear a top to protect the upper half of the body.
  • Cover up arms and shoulders by wearing loose, appropriate clothing.
  • Stay in the shade as much as possible, especially during breaks.
  • Use a high-factor sunscreen of at least SPF 30.
  • Monitor any changes in the skin’s appearance, including colour of moles, changes in their shape or appearance, or if they bleed or feel itchy.
  • Drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration.
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat that covers the back of the neck and ears.

 
We can help you to develop a sun-safe policy

A good employer should raise awareness of employees wearing sunscreen to protect against UV light and skin cancer. You should consider providing sunscreen to employees that work outside for long periods, and ensure they wear hats or caps. Our team of professionals at Neathouse Partners can help you to outline a sun-safe policy that encourages safety while upholding your duty of care. We can also ensure compliance with health and safety legislation.

Call us on 0333 041 1094 today, or use our contact form.

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