I do not what to jinx it, but summer is just around the corner. We can look forward to cold drinks and BBQ’s……I hope.
I am going to focus on a very important topic for the summer months and that is exposure to Ultraviolet rays or UV as it is more commonly known. The suns rays are a type of non-ionising radiation in the form of ultraviolet. Almost all skin cancers are caused by over exposure to UV. This means that almost all skin cancers are preventable by taking appropriate control measures to reduce the risk of harm. Does your organisation have employees who work outdoors? This could be for example, construction site workers, agricultural workers, outdoor instructors, refuge collectors, to name but a few. All these workers could be over exposed to UV in their day-to-day jobs during summer months.
When the sun comes out most people opt for the sun protection cream, however just like with Personal Protective Equipment, this is the last method of control. The focus should be on avoiding exposure in the first instance. Before we look at the control measures you can take, it is important to understand why over exposure to UV can be harmful. The sunlight causes the skin to produce a dark pigment called melanin; this is a sign that the skin has been damaged. This is more commonly referred to as a tan. Now we have looked what the impact of sunlight can do, we can look at the harmful effects it poses. In the short-term, even a mild reddening of the skin from sun exposure is a sign of damage. When exposed to sunlight the skin can blister which could subsequently peel. Longer-term effects are that the sunlight speeds up the ageing of the skin, which can make it dry and wrinkled. The most serious effect is an increased chance of developing skin cancer.
How can you go about protecting yourself? There are many acronyms or mnemonics within health and safety. I particularly like this one, slip, slap, slop, shade. There are many iterations of this mnemonic. The important thing is that you remember what control measures you can take.
- Slip – slip on a top. Clothing can be one of the most effective barriers protecting the skin from the sun. Clothing should cover as much skin as possible, and they should always cover the shoulders as these can easily burn when exposed.
- Slap – slap on a hat. If your working environment allows you, wear a hat with a brim or a means of covering the ears and back of the neck, such as a flap.
- Slop – Slop on a high factor sunscreen on any exposed skin. To get the most effectiveness from this it should be applied to clean and dry skin and approximately 20 minutes before going outdoors. Regular reapplications should then take place throughout the day, perhaps every 2 hours.
- Shade – Seek shade whenever possible and especially during your breaks and at lunch time. The hottest times of the day during the summer months tend to be between 11:00 and 15:00. Never rely on shade on its own, it should be used in addition to the above controls.
- Sip – drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration
- Slide – Does your work allow you to slide on a pair of sunglasses or safety glasses that offer UV protection. Sun exposure can cause burns to the eyes, from sunlight bouncing off surfaces such as water or the metal on the tools or equipment that you may be using.
So, what should you do in your organisation if your workers are outdoors some or most of the time, then the sun is a hazard. The risk assessment process is not overly complicated and the controls we have already spoken about are what you may do if you go on holiday. The control measures you implement should be recorded in a risk assessment and communicated to all relevant employees. Employees should receive suitable information and instruction in relation to the risk that sunlight poses, the control measures they should implement and basic information on how to check their skin for any unusual spots or moles of find anything that is changing in shape, colour or size and to consult their GP if they do or are concerned.
Further guidance and information can be obtained from the Health and Safety Executive website – https://www.hse.gov.uk/skin/sunprotect.htm