Outdoor workers at risk from UV over-exposure: How merchants can help

Builders’ merchants have a crucial role to play in ensuring their employees and customers are protecting themselves against UV overexposure, even those who do not spend the whole working day outdoors.

That’s according to a survey by SC Johnson Professional amongst construction health & safety professionals and employees which found that 76% of respondents were unaware that 1 death and 5 new cases of skin cancer per week in Britain could be attributed to occupational UV exposure. Moreover, 1 in 3 health and safety professionals stated that their organisation did not provide any UV protection to outdoor workers.

Ensuring that there is ample stock of broad spectrum, high factor sun protection cream is important – but promoting the importance of this on particularly sunny or hot days can help. The UV index is a good indicator: when it exceeds level 3, the sun is strong enough to cause skin damage. Displaying the daily forecast UV level for the local area at the checkout could be an effective way of helping outdoor workers know when to apply protection.

Sun Board In Use

Lack of provision may be due to the fact that 40% of these professionals claimed that employees provided their own UV protection. According to Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidelines, UV radiation should be considered an occupational hazard for those who work outdoors. Despite this, in their 2019 discovered that 87% of non-wearers of sun cream stated that there was no UV protection product made available in their workplace. Of those who did use sun cream however, only 27% were provided with product by their employer.

Further to this, when asked why they felt that a large number of employees did not use UV protection, 45% of health and safety professionals admitted that this was due to a lack of awareness around the dangers of UV exposure. However, it was concerning that 30% of the respondents said that it was due to a general belief that UV protection at work in the UK is unnecessary. Last year’s survey saw 136 outdoor workers participating and it was found that only 1 in 4 wore protective sun cream whilst at work, citing the effort involved as the main reason for this. In contrast to this, 72% of respondents claimed that they would use protective sun cream whilst on holiday, but only 26% would wear sun cream on cloudy days despite harmful UV rays still passing through cloud cover; demonstrating an awareness of the risks on holiday, but a need for a shift in attitude when it came to protection at work.

Seeking to find out what was needed in terms of training, it was found that 1 in 2 organisations surveyed carried out no training on when and how to use UV protection, and just 37% of health and safety professionals stated that they themselves had had the correct training to equip them to implement UV protection programmes in their organisations.

Of those health and safety professionals where the majority of employees worked outdoors, 1 in 3 said that they did not have enough information to brief workers on the dangers of UV exposure and 41% stated that they wanted clearer regulatory requirements to help them with this. 43% of professionals wanted better data and information on the risks posed by UV radiation in the UK.

UV training is recommended when it comes to raising awareness around the risks and advising on best practice. Toolbox Talks help health and safety professionals and site managers to deliver quality, informative training, and videos can illustrate real-life case studies and simple facts to bring home the reality of over-exposure. Training should highlight the ‘5 S approach’ – slip, slop, slap, slide and shade – an approach which can significantly contribute to the prevention of excessive UV exposure.


About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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