Home >Make sure UV protected your workforce

Make sure UV protected your workforce

09 May 2013

Working outdoors puts construction workers at a higher risk of work-related skin disease. As the summer approaches, Deb Group looks at what employers can do to minimise the exposure of workers to the sun

There are approximately 40,000 new diagnoses of work-related skin disease per year and statistics show that skin cancer is a developing issue; of the 2055 cases reported of work-related skin disease, under the THOR scheme in 2010, 73% of cases were contact dermatitis and 19% were skin cancer. Over the last 25 years rates of malignant melanoma in Britain have risen faster than any of the top ten cancers in males and females, and outdoor workers have a higher than average risk of developing the disease; particularly construction workers who are six times more likely to develop skin cancer than the general population.


Whilst the sun is a good source of Vitamin D, long term exposure causes skin damage and every episode of sunburn increases the risk of skin cancer. Indeed, 90% of skin cancers occur on parts of the body usually not covered by clothing; the face, hands, forearms and ears. Guidelines from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) – ‘Directors’ Responsibility for Health and Safety’ – highlight that employers are legally obliged to provide a safe working environment and should include sun protection advice in routine health and safety training. The HSE states that UV radiation should be considered an occupational hazard for people who work outdoors.

Understanding solar ultraviolet radiation (UVR) is vital for understanding the sun protection control measures needed. The sun emits three types of UV light/radiation: UVA, UVB and UVC.  UVC radiation is blocked by the ozone layer whilst UVA and UVB both reach the earth’s surface and penetrate our skin. UVB rays are burning rays and the primary cause of sunburn and contribute to skin cancer.  UVA rays are able to penetrate deeper into the base layer of the skin and contribute to skin burning, skin cancer and premature ageing.


Phil Spark, marketing director at Deb, says: "It is a common misconception that you can ‘feel yourself getting sunburnt’, however Solar UVR cannot be seen or felt so it can damage the skin without us knowing.”


The UV index

Levels of solar UVR vary across the country on any given day. The UV index is a rating system adopted from the World Health Organisation and provided by the MET office in the UK. The forecast is expressed as a ‘Solar UV Index’ and includes the effects of the position of the sun in the sky, forecast cloud cover and ozone amounts in the stratosphere. The aim of the index is to warn people of increased risk and encourage them to change their behaviour in order to protect themselves against the risks of skin damage and skin cancer.   

The UV index ranges from zero upwards and has five categories:

• Low UV Index of 1 to 2

• Moderate UV Index of 3 to 5

• High UV Index of 6 to 7

• Very High UV Index of 8 to 10

• Extreme UV Index of 11 and above 

When the UV index is at level 3 and above, the amount of solar UV radiation is strong enough to damage the skin, which can lead to skin cancer. So, what can employers do to minimise exposure to the sun for those who work outside?


Minimising exposure to the sun

In consultation with health and safety representatives and employees, employers should identify solar UVR exposure hazards and introduce control measures to reduce exposure such as choosing the right protective equipment, clothing and skin care products, as well as advising employees on UV protection and how to check for early signs of skin damage, changes or abnormalities.


Phil Spark continues: "As the summer approaches, it is important to look at the needs of outdoor workers. Organisations should work with companies who are experts in skin care to provide a systemised skin safety solution along with providing advice and educational materials. Sunscreen is of paramount importance for helping to reduce the risks of damage to the skin and those who work outside should be encouraged to use a good quality sunscreen.”

For outdoor working a minimum Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 is recommended. SPF 30 means that the product will stop 95-97% of UVB rays and allow 30 times longer in the sun before burning than without it. In addition to UVB protection, it is important that the sunscreen contains UVA protection. The UVA protection for a specific sunscreen should ideally be a minimum 4 star UVA rating and should display the UVA logo on the packaging.  


Phil Spark adds: "It is important that the product is applied correctly as most people use sunscreens improperly by not applying enough. Even on a cloudy day, 30-50% of the sun’s rays reach the skin so sunscreen should be liberally applied every two hours, or more if perspiring.”

When it comes to health in the workplace, prevention is far better than cure!