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Many of us belive that it is great to have a tan. We feel that we look better and healthier. And it’s nice to have people say, ‘you look good, where have you been?’ So whenever the sun appears, people want to top up their tans so that they look good in their summer clothes or perhaps in their beach-wear. 

But if employers actually told their staff to work under the conditions of solar radiation, with a significant likelihood of developing skin cancer, I suspect that there might be something of an outcry. The statistics for work place fatal injuries was 133 people in the year 2013/14 (source, HSE) but EVERY DAY OF THE YEAR,  statistically 5 people will be diagnosed with a skin cancer contracted at work.  This is likely to be proportionately higher in countries with sunnier climates and larger populations, even allowing for skin types. 

The risks to holiday makers who take sun-soaked holidays are well known and often spoken of but they are not comparable with the risks faced by millions of people who work out-doors for significant periods, day-in, day-out. People who work at events sites, construction, agriculture, maritime, holiday industries and many more sectors are very easily identified as being at greater risk. People who do this type of work are likely to be exposed to U.V. radiation which can penetrate deep into the layers of the skill and damage skin cells, which can then mutate and result in the development of cancers. The Health and Safety Practitioner publication suggests that getting painful sunburn just once every two years can triple the chances of developing malignant melanoma. 

What can be done?

Here are some quite simple tips, though there are more.

  • Look at what work takes place, where it takes place and who does the work. This should give you and idea of the scale of the problem so you can work out how you can manage awareness and develop ways to keep people safe.
  • Check weather forecasts on a regular basis so that you can anticipate what the UV index is. By knowing this, you can tie it in with the above tip on a day-to-day basis.
  • Remember that drinking water is an important part of keeping skin safe. Provide breaks under cover as well as plenty of drinking water and opportunities for workers to drink the water.
  • Eye sight is also damaged by UV radiation. We are aware that glare is unpleasant but our eyes can also be physically damaged by UV. The wearing of sunglasses with 100% UV protection is critical to protect eyesight from UV radiation.
  • You will notice that we have not included commonly known methods such as wide brimmed hats, covering skin and so-on. We would hope that this is commonly known but if in any doubt, please seek suitable advice.

What are the legal issues for employers and for workers?

It is commonly known that employers have legal responsibilities and duties of care but it is a mis-conception that they do not have a responsibility to keep workers safe from radiation from the sun and that they can allow workers to subathe to ‘top-up their tans’ if workers take the choice to do so. Employers MUST ensure that their workforce are safe and healthy during working times - and this includes breaks.

The workforce has a legal duty to ensure their own health as well as safety during working time (including of course, breaks) and to follow the instructions of employers for both their safety and their health. 

It follows then that workers can expect that employers will provide for their protection from the effects of UV solar radiation and that employers will demand that employees follow instructions, use systems and materials provided for their protection from UV rays. 

With this advice, we hope that you will all have a happy, safe and healthy summer.

For support in how to undertake risk assessments and provide safe systems of work for UV solar radiation risks, please contact us at The Safety Organisation. We would be delighted to help.