A free ‘Sun safety in construction’ video is being circulated during the UK heatwave this week, alongside advice from the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH). To raise awareness among construction industry workers, IOSH representatives warned that sun exposure causes 99% of non-melanoma skin cancer and up to 65% of malignant melanoma skin cancer.
IOSH-commissioned research into sun exposure in the UK construction sector showed that two thirds of people working outside for an average of seven hours a day either thought they were not at risk of skin cancer or didn’t know whether they were or not. Nearly 60% of construction workers reported having sunburn at least once in the past year, while 40% thought there was no need to wear sunscreen on a cloudy day (up to 80% of ultraviolet rays can penetrate clouds.)
Most of those surveyed said that they didn’t take measures to protect themselves against sun exposure and neither workers or managers saw sun safety as a critical issue, mainly due to the misperception that the UK climate doesn’t pose a high risk of skin cancer. Other research, commissioned by IOSH from Imperial College London, found that around 50 people die each year in the UK from skin cancer caused by sun exposure at work, with 240 new cancer cases being registered annually.
Ruth Wilkinson, head of health and safety at IOSH, said: “The majority of those affected are men. Just under half of those diagnosed with malignant melanoma linked to sun exposure at work are under 65, findings which are echoed in studies around the world. At least 1,500 new cases of work-related non-melanoma skin cancer (more treatable than malignant melanoma) are also registered each year in Britain, with 12 deaths.”
Ruth added: “Workers often have long-term, chronic solar radiation exposure to particular areas of the body such as their head, neck, arms and hands, with legs and torso also being exposed on particularly hot days. In some industry sectors, the risks still aren’t acknowledged or managed as well as they could be.”
How to manage sun exposure
Here’s an IOSH checklist to help outdoor workers manage exposure to the sun:
• Be sure to check the ultraviolet (UV) index from the weather forecast and communicate information to relevant workers.
• Try to minimise exposure to direct sunlight until at least 3pm.
• Regularly swap job tasks between workers to ensure everyone in the team can spend some time in the shade.
• Erect heavy duty outdoor cover or shade.
• Make sure that rest breaks are taken in shaded areas or indoors.
• Encourage the wearing of long-sleeved, loose-fitting tops and trousers when working outside during periods of high UV levels.
• Wear wide-brimmed hats that shade the face, head, ears and neck, or wear safety helmets fitted with Legionnaire-style neck flaps.
• Wear sunglasses with 100% UV protection or use UV-filtering safety goggles with the same level of protection if the work requires physical eye protection.
• Don’t rely on sunscreen alone for protection.
• Encourage workers to regularly check their skin for changes such as moles or other skin differences. Detecting the early signs of skin cancer and undergoing early treatment can save lives.