We’ve already experienced the hottest June day since 1976 and with temperatures set to soar throughout the rest of the summer months, the heat will be on for tradesmen. Employers who are responsible for people who work outside for long periods have a duty to keep their employees safe in the sun.
Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun can cause skin damage, including sunburn and blistering, which in the long term can lead to skin cancer. None of these conditions result in a happy workforce, but worryingly skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the UK, with over 100,000 new cases being diagnosed and 2,500 people killed each year. With construction workers accounting for 44% of deaths from skin cancer, UV radiation should be considered an occupational hazard for those people who work outdoors, such as builders, carpenters and landscapers.
Employers should take steps to inform their workforce of the dangers of sun exposure and put guidelines in place to protect their employees:
- Encourage workers to keep covered during the summer months. It is tempting to wear less clothing in the heat, but wide brimmed hats and long sleeved shirts can offer protection.
- Promote the importance of using sun screen to any part of the body that can’t be covered up.
- Schedule work to minimise exposure during the hottest part of the day, typically between 11am and 3pm, and encourage breaks to be taken in the shade.
- To avoid dehydration plan for increased water breaks and supply water if necessary.
Although the Approved Code of Practice suggests the minimum temperature in a workplace should be above 16C, there is no statutory upper limit. The TUC (Trades Union Congress) are calling for regulations to be put in place that would allow workers to go home if the temperature of their workplace reached 30C (or 27C when doing physical activity). They are proposing that employers should be legally obliged to provide water, breaks or air conditioning to combat “uncomfortably high” workplace temperatures.
The TUC’s general secretary Frances O’Grady says: “While many of us will welcome the sunshine and warm temperatures, working in sweltering conditions can be unbearable and dangerous.
“Employers can give their staff a break by relaxing dress code rules temporarily and ensuring staff doing outside work are protected.
“Obviously shorts and flip flops won’t be the right attire for all workers, but no one should be made to suffer unnecessarily in the heat for the sake of appearances.”
Until such maximum temperature regulations are in place, tradesmen can rely on the guidelines set out in the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. This requires employers to make a “suitable assessment” of the risks to the health and safety of their employees and take action “where necessary and where reasonably practicable”.
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