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Who’s responsible for the sun protection of outdoor workers?


With the summer heat wave came the reminders that the employers of outside workers have a duty of care to provide them with adequate sun protection.

So just what are the legal obligations on senior executives and directors when it comes to employer responsibilities for Sun Protection for Outdoor Workers? How can you reduce the health risks for your employees when their roles mean working outdoors in the sun?

UV radiation should be regarded as an occupational hazard for people who work outdoors

Many people work outside, from construction workers, postal workers, council workers, refuse collectors and couriers to farmers, agricultural and horticultural workers, fishermen, gardeners.

High levels of UV exposure increases the risk of all three types of skin cancer

Too much sunlight is harmful and can cause skin damage including sunburn, blistering and skin ageing and in the long term can lead to an increased risk of skin cancer. Skin cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer in the UK with over 50,000 new cases every year. A tan may make the person look healthy but it’s a sign that the skin has been damaged by ultraviolet (UV) rays in sunlight.

It’s the employer’s duty of care to promote the following protective measures:

  • If possible, plan outdoor work in sunny weather to limit duration and intensity of employee exposure to direct sunlight (11.00am to 15.00pm the sun rays are most intense)
  • Limit duration of exposure if possible when UV index is high (3 or above), do indoor work if possible
  • Provide shade if possible
  • Provide sun screen, SPF of at least 30 and UVA label on bottle
  • Provide sun glasses
  • Give information to employees about dangers of sun exposure
    • Keep your top on.
    • Wear a hat with a brim or a flap that covers the ears and the back of the neck.
    • Stay in the shade whenever possible, during your breaks and especially at lunch time.
    • Use a high factor sunscreen of at least SPF15 on any exposed skin.
    • Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.
    • Check your skin regularly for any unusual moles or spots. See a doctor promptly if you find anything that is changing in shape, size or colour, itching or bleeding.

Outdoor workers are often at higher risk through choice

Research shows outdoor workers  are  more  likely  to  spend additional time in the sun during  non-working  periods  due  to deliberate lifestyle  choices  such as preferences  for outdoor sports  and  leisure  pursuits (Woolley et al., 2002). Although you may not be in a position to influence their actions outside the working environment - you are liable for their protection when at work.