Health & Safety

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Sun Exposure and Heat Stress

27 July 2014

Too much sunlight is harmful to your skin. The damage is caused by ultraviolet (UV) rays in sunlight.


What are the harmful effects?

Exposure to UV radiation from the sun can cause sunburn, blistering, skin ageing and in the long term can lead to skin cancer. UV radiation should be considered an occupational hazard for people who work outdoors.

It is estimated that four out of five of all UK skin cancers are preventable and that around 80% of melanomas are caused by exposure to the sun. By enjoying the sun safely, taking care not to burn and by also avoiding sunbeds, people can reduce the risk of developing skin cancer.

Who is at risk?

If work keeps you outdoors for a long time your skin could be exposed to more sun than is healthy for you. Outdoor workers that could be at risk include BT outdoor Engineers and Royal Mail Delivery workers. Members should take particular care if they have:

  • fair or freckled skin that doesn't tan, or goes red or burns before it tans;
  • red or fair hair and light coloured eyes;
  • a large number of moles.

In the short term, even mild reddening of the skin from sun exposure is a sign of damage. Sunburn can blister the skin and make it peel.

Longer term problems can arise. Too much sun speeds up ageing of the skin, making it leathery, mottled and wrinkled. The most serious effect is an increased chance of developing skin cancer.

What can you do to avoid dehydration and heat stress?

Do not wait until you are thirsty to drink water. Few people realise just how important it is to drink enough liquid before and during outdoor work in hot weather.

Dehydration occurs when there is excessive loss of water from the body due to fluid deprivation. You can get heat cramps and heat exhaustion triggered by dehydration. Working in hot weather whilst dehydrated can cause real problems. If you have ever experienced extreme tiredness whilst working on a hot day or become dizzy and uncoordinated, then this is probably because you were dehydrated. The simple solution is to drink much more water.

Dehydration or heat exhaustion can set in with little or no warning.

What can you do to protect yourself?

  • Keep your top on, wear long sleeve shirts or loose clothing with a close weave and long trousers.
  • 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.
  • Take frequent rest breaks.
  • Take breaks in the shade whenever possible especially at lunch time.
  • Use a high factor sunscreen of at least SPF15 on any exposed skin.
  • Schedule work to cooler times of the day where possible.
  • Drink plenty of water to replace lost fluids and avoid dehydration, even if you are not thirsty.
  • 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.

The Health and Safety Eexcutive have produced a leaflet: Keep your top on - Health risks from working in the sun: (PDF document)

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