Originally published on 9th July 2018
Updated 6th September 2019
The Importance of UV Protective Workwear for Outdoor Workers in Hot Weather Conditions
An Employer’s Responsibility to Provide UV Protective Clothing
People who work outdoors in warm weather have a higher risk of developing skin cancer as they are exposed to the sun for long periods. They are also at risk of overheating, heat stress and heat exhaustion.
Employers have a responsibility under The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 to assess the health risks their workforce may be exposed to. These health risks include the potential harm from UV radiation and heat. Employers need to provide anyone who works outdoors for prolonged periods with the necessary sun protection workwear — whether they’re construction workers, gardeners, public service personnel or outdoor activity workers.
The Risks of Exposure to UV if Sun Protective Clothing Is Not Worn
According to research from Imperial College London, working in the sun could lead to one death and around five new cases of melanoma skin cancer a week in the UK. Researchers for the British Journal of Cancer estimated that each year, overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays at work leads to 48 deaths and 241 cases of melanoma skin cancer in the UK. If inadequate UV protective clothing and PPE is worn, regular exposure to harmful UV rays can cause serious damage to both the skin and eyes. It can also lead to overheating and dehydration. Even apparently mild reddening of the skin is an early sign of damage. In the long term, overexposure speeds up the ageing process of the skin and increases the likelihood of developing skin cancer.
The Risks of Overheating
What’s known as “heat stress” occurs when the body’s means of controlling its internal temperature begins to fail. Several factors can contribute to this state, including air temperature, work rate, humidity, and the clothing worn.
While it’s impossible to control the weather, choosing the right sun protective clothing can make all the difference. Unsuitable clothing that restricts sweat evaporation may result in an insufficient amount of heat being dispelled from the body. Consequently, the core body temperature will rise and the body eventually receives more heat than it can lose. Regular exposure to this uncomfortable state can result in the body’s control mechanisms failing. UV protective, breathable fabrics with moisture-wicking properties can help to reduce this discomfort.
The effects of heat stress are numerous and include an inability to concentrate, fainting, muscle cramps, heat rash, heat stroke, heat exhaustion and severe thirst. These factors will all significantly impact a worker’s ability to continue with their task.
In hot weather conditions, everyone is at risk. So the best course of action is to carry out a risk assessment that addresses clothing, work rate, and respiratory protective equipment, among other important factors. HSE has created this helpful heat stress checklist to follow when carrying out your risk assessment. It is advisable to identify employees who are most at risk in these difficult conditions — for example, those with any illnesses or conditions which increase the likelihood of heat stress. Make sure you regularly monitor the health of these individuals. You may also require guidance from an occupational health professional. They will be able to advise you on the most appropriate sun-protective clothing to provide — and suggest other safety measures you should implement to protect your workers.
Sun Protection Workwear and PPE for Hot Weather
PPE may be designed to protect workers against hazards in the workplace. But it can also expose employees to heat stress and reduce the body’s ability to evaporate sweat — as well as providing inadequate protection against harmful UV rays. However, removing these protective measures exposes workers to the hazard it was designed to protect them from. This makes choosing PPE and workwear that incorporates appropriate breathable fabrics and UV protection crucial.
There are a number of different UV protective clothing items that can be considered, including hats, shirts, trousers and hi-vis. WISE Worksafe has a selection of garments with UV protection, including Craghoppers shirts and trousers, which incorporate permanent sun-protective technology. The Craghoppers SolarShield fabric provides UPF50+ protection from ultraviolet rays. Everything from the tight fabric weave, type of yarns used and colours have been designed to offer the best protection while working outdoors.
The comfort of your workers is important for their health and productivity. Being too warm or sunburnt will increase downtime, so choosing protective clothing with the impact of the weather in mind is vital. If workers are too hot, they may be tempted to take protective garments off. Or, they may opt for regular clothing that does not protect them against the hazards of their working environment. If you provide them with appropriate clothes, they will be able to protect themselves against workplace hazards and the impact of the sun simultaneously.
During the heatwave of 2018, the BBC shared experiences from 10 UK workers about what it's like to wear their standard uniform in hot weather.
If your employees are regularly working in bright sunlight, they will need to protect their eyes from UV damage — as well as sun-protective clothing. In a non-hazardous environment, sunglasses with UV protection are normally sufficient. However, when other occupational risks to the eyes exist, it’s important to choose the right safety eyewear./p>
When workers need safety spectacles or goggles outdoors, it’s strongly recommended to opt for ones with UV protection. The Betafit Montana grey lens spectacles have a smoke tinted lens for anti-glare with UV400 sun protection. The UV400 mark indicates a product is optimised to prevent exposure to both UVA and UVB radiation. These lenses are capable of blocking light rays as small as 400 nanometres, which means 99 to 100% of the sun’s harmful radiation is kept away from the eyes.
The Importance of Sunscreen
Encouraging your employees to wear sunscreen daily in sunny weather is important — particularly during a heatwave. When you are responsible for outdoor workers in hot weather, you should provide the sunscreen and encourage regular application. In terms of SPF (sun protection factor), the Skin Cancer Foundation explains that SPF 15 filters out approximately 93% of UVB rays, SPF 30 keeps out 97% and SPF 50 filters 98%. For those with light-sensitive skin or a history of skin cancer, these slight differences in percentage could make all the difference. While no sunscreen can block 100% of UV rays, it’s best to provide as much protection as possible.
Further ways to protect workers include:
- Sun protection advice during health and safety training
- Encouraging them to keep their UV protection clothing on — even in scorching conditions
- Providing shade and encouraging workers to stay in it whenever possible — especially during breaks/lunchtime
- Encouraging the drinking of water to avoid dehydration
- Monitoring employee health
- Scheduling work at cooler times of the day
- Rotating staff out of the sun frequently
- Encouraging workers to check their skin for newly formed moles or skin discolouration
The Benefits to an Employer of Providing Clothing with UV Protection
By addressing the potential risks of working outdoors in hot weather conditions, you will see fewer staff absences from sunburn, heat stress or exhaustion. Workers will be more comfortable, happy, healthy and well-informed and you will be doing your part to reduce their risk of developing skin cancer. Employees who feel well cared for will be more motivated, productive and loyal to the company.
Are your workers prepared for hot weather? Have you fulfilled your responsibility to provide appropriate UV protective workwear for your team? Browse our range of workwear and PPE. If you’re not sure what you need, get in touch with our team of experts and we'll be glad to help.
For more information on the risks of working in the sun, check out the following resources: