Working in Heat and Sun – An Essential Guide
With summer fast approaching its time to start planning for any outdoor work.
Sunburn and exposure to the UV in sunlight can significantly increase an individual’s risk of skin cancer. Direct exposure is not necessary to increase the risk; even exposure to UV light on bright overcast days can increase the risk. Hazards of working in hot weather include:
- Sunburn: very common; painful with skin blisters and peeling
- increased risk of sun cancer by exposure to UV light whether or not sunburn occurs
- prickly heat: groups of small itchy spots on the skin
- heat exhaustion: fainting, cramp and nausea
- heat stress.
Heat stress occurs when the body’s means of controlling its internal temperature starts to fail. As well as air temperature, factors such as work rate, humidity and clothing worn while working may lead to heat stress.
Typical symptoms are; an inability to concentrate, muscle cramps, heat rash, severe thirst, fainting, heat exhaustion – fatigue, giddiness, nausea, headache, moist skin and heat stroke – hot dry skin, confusion, convulsions and eventual loss of consciousness. This is a severe disorder and can result in death if not detected at an early stage.
A risk assessment must be carried out where there is a possibility of heat stress occurring in the workplace, you should consider:
- Those working out of doors for long periods particularly with exposed skin
- Work rate – the harder someone works the greater the amount of body heat generated
- Working climate – this includes air temperature, humidity, air movement
- Worker clothing and respiratory protective equipment – may impair the efficiency of sweating and other means of temperature regulation
- Worker’s age, build and medical factors – may affect an individual’s tolerance.
How do I reduce the risk?
- Identify employees who are at risk due to sunlight exposure or exposure to heat
- Control the temperature using fans or air conditioning
- Provide mechanical aids where possible to reduce the work rate
- Limit exposure to cooler times of the day
- Prevent dehydration
- Provide personal protective equipment
- Provide training
- Monitor the health of workers at risk.
- Introduce controls and precautions for those who may be working in high temperatures or exposed to heat stress due to a combination of temperature, humidity and radiant heat
- Make provisions for workers to avoid sun exposure between 11am and 3pm when uv radiation is at its peak, even if it is overcast
- Reserve indoor or sheltered jobs for peak uv radiation times
- Rotate staff to limit each employee’s midday sun exposure where possible
- Provide shade (e.g. awnings, canopies) for workers to use, especially during breaks. If this is not feasible, encourage workers to find shade under trees, buildings and other temporary shelter
- Encourage workers to cover up
- Provide hats or appropriate headgear for workers to wear. Hats should ideally shade the face, neck, ears and head
- Provide spf 15+ sunscreen for outdoor workers to use where necessary