Roofers, construction workers, gardeners; all spend the majority of their working day in the light of a silent threat to the health of their skin. Without adequate UV protection, they are putting themselves at risk
According to a recent study by Imperial College London, working outdoors could lead to one death and around five new cases of melanoma skin cancer a week1. The findings from the study were hardly surprising, given that IOSH’s No Time To Lose Solar campaign revealed that despite working outside for up to seven hours a day, only 59% of construction employees regularly applied sunscreen2.
Understanding the threat
UV light is invisible, and there are three distinct types: UVA, UVB and UVC. Often there are misconceptions regarding when protection from UV rays is required, which can make compliance problematic. UV rays are not affected by sunlight or temperature, and can’t be seen or felt, meaning outdoor workers are often unaware that they are at risk.
Interestingly, it has also been suggested that UVB wavelengths can be beneficial to employees if exposure is minimal and controlled. They can kick off the chemical and metabolic chain reaction that produces Vitamin D. According to Professor Andrew Wright, consultant dermatologist at Bradford
Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, “15-20 minutes of unprotected sun exposure, without skin reddening or burning, per day should be sufficient for most people to produce the required Vitamin D level3.” It is crucial that Health & Safety Managers are able to establish when UV protection is necessary, and for this to be effectively conveyed to employees.
Duty of Care
Employers have a duty of care to protect their employees from hazards in the workplace and according to Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidelines, UV radiation should be considered an occupational hazard for people who work outdoors. However, many employers are failing to meet this responsibility, as a study which IOSH conducted in conjunction with the University of Nottingham revealed that 70% of employees claimed that they had never received training on the risks of working outside4. It is a problem which is becoming increasingly prevalent, and one in which Health & Safety Managers must help to solve.
The key to combatting skin damage and even skin cancer for outdoor workers is by changing their attitude on the protection of their skin through education and  training, whilst also providing employees with effective solutions.
How to effectively protect the workers
When it comes to choosing an effective solution for outdoor workers, it is crucial that Health & Safety Managers choose a ‘broad spectrum’ sunscreen which provides protection against UVA, UVB and UVC rays.
With regards to application, for the average sized adult, it is recommended that employees apply at least one teaspoon of sunscreen to each arm, leg, front of body, back of body and face (including ears and neck)5. Where possible, it should be applied to clean, dry skin 15 minutes before the initial exposure, and reapplied liberally every two to three hours. For industrial workplaces, it is also crucial that the sunscreen chosen is both water and sweat-resistant, to ensure that they remain protected at work. Additionally, it is important for sunscreen to offer quick skin absorption to ensure that the hand dexterity with tools isn’t negatively impacted.
For outdoor workers who spend the majority of their day outside, it is also recommended that a high Sun Protection Factor (SPF) is used – either minimum SPF30 or SPF50 is advised. Sunscreens with a lower SPF such as SPF15 will only be able to filter out 93% of incoming UVB rays, whereas SPF30 and SPF50 sunscreens are able to filter out 97% and 98% of all incoming rays respectively6.
Help and guidance in incorporating UV protection in workplaces is widely available. It is advised that companies conduct a detailed internal risk assessment first, and then implement protection methods. Ideally, these aspects should be formalised into a fully-fledged Sun Protection Policy.
Through implementing employee training and introducing sunscreen dispensers, employers can ensure that workplaces contain more informed employees, who are happier, healthier and will have minimised their risk of being diagnosed with skin cancer.
1 Imperial College London
2 IOSH No Time to Lose Campaign
3 Professor Andrew Wright, Consultant Dermatologist at Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
5 British Association of Dermatology