Safety and health professionals can tackle workers’ sun risks

During Sun Awareness Week this week (8-14 May), businesses can help raise awareness and prevent cancer caused by solar radiation exposure at work using free materials from the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health’s award-nominated No Time to Lose campaign.

Sun Awareness Week is organised annually by the British Association of Dermatologists (BAD), one of the supporters of the No Time to Lose campaign this year. 

It aims to raise awareness of skin cancer, to encourage people to regularly self-examine their skin, and to educate the public about the dangers of sunburn and excessive tanning. 

Johnathon Major of the British Association of Dermatologists, said: "Skin cancer is now the most common form of cancer in the UK and incidence rates are still rising, with outdoor workers being particularly at high risk.

“A concerted effort must be made to make both employers and employees aware of the dangers posed by sun exposure, and to encourage the adoption of responsible preventative measures. 

"No Time to Lose aims to do exactly that, and we applaud IOSH’s efforts in making the workplace a sun-safe environment.”

In 2015, research commissioned by IOSH into solar radiation exposure at work in Britain, revealed that each year, malignant melanoma, which is the more serious form of skin cancer, kills nearly 50 people, with 240 new cancer cases being registered. 

The study was done by Imperial College London which also found that 42 per cent of malignant melanoma cancer cases involve construction workers. Other key sectors include agriculture, public administration and defence, and land transport.

A second study by The University of Nottingham researched attitudes to sun safety in the construction sector and found that two thirds of construction workers outside for an average of nearly seven hours a day thought they were not at risk or were unsure if they were.

More than half (59 per cent) of those questioned by researchers reported having sunburn – a major contributor to skin cancer – at least once in the last year. 

Kate Field, Head of Information and Intelligence at IOSH, said: “We urge businesses to develop ‘sun safety strategies’ that include regular updates on the UV index from weather forecasts, minimising sun exposure in the middle of the day and asking employees to wear long-sleeved, loose-fitting tops and trousers. Using high-factor sunscreen is helpful but should not be relied on as the only barrier to the harmful rays.

“Our No Time to Lose campaign website has free resources businesses can download to raise awareness of solar radiation exposure at work. The pack includes factsheets, posters, pocket cards and more to help inform and engage the work force."

Since the campaign was launched in November 2014, 100 leading businesses have pledged to prevent occupational cancer. Pledge signatory Royal Mail Group protects its employees from sun exposure by providing protective clothing as part of its uniform and encouraging workers to cover up during the higher ultraviolet radiation (UVR) months.

IOSH has also worked in partnership with campaign supporter Considerate Constructors Scheme to develop a poster to help raise awareness of UVR exposure on construction sites across the UK. 

Edward Hardy, Considerate Constructors Scheme Chief Executive, said:  “We are delighted to support IOSH’s No Time to Lose campaign – anything that is done to help raise awareness of occupational cancers and the effective prevention programmes that can be introduced by employers will only improve the wellbeing of all involved.

“The construction industry is a dynamic and evolving sector and we must do all we can, not only to make our working practices ever safer, but also to improve the health and wellbeing of all those who work in our industry.

“We are helping to achieve greater understanding of this issue by raising awareness via the Scheme’s monitoring of thousands of registered sites, companies and suppliers each year, and through the Scheme’s Best Practice Hub – the construction industry’s free to access online platform for sharing best practice.”

To find out more about IOSH’s No Time to Lose campaign and to download free resources, visit the website.