It is fair to say that we have not been blessed with the best of weather in Scotland therefore when we do experience a heatwave, at any level, it is common to see people partaking in the time honoured tradition of taps aff.
When the sun is shining, those who work indoors are envious of those who are able to work outdoors and enjoy the, usually short-lived, better weather. Few consider the consequences of outdoor work on the health and safety of those who have to work outside on building sites and other such professions.
In June 2017, temperatures in Scotland soared to 28 degrees in Edinburgh meaning that those who work outdoors were exposed to greater levels of ultraviolet radiation (UV rays) from the sun than they routinely have to deal with during their working day. As a result, more than a few people would have gone home after a long day in the sun to find themselves dealing with the consequences of sunburn.
It has recently been reported in the press that a landscape gardener from Edinburgh, and working in Dunfermline, sustained second degree burns to his back and neck while working outside. Many newspapers published photographs showing the painful blisters and damaged skin of this man who worked during the recent heatwave and suffered the painful consequences. This man is a prime example of the risk posed to outdoor workers when temperatures soar.
According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), outdoor workers are at increased risk skin damage by way of sunburn, blistering and skin ageing caused by UV rays compared with those who work indoors. Long term exposure to UV rays can result in skin cancer, the most common form of cancer with more than 40,000 cases diagnosed every year.
Exposure to UV rays is considered to be an occupational risk to those routinely working outdoors. Employers should consider the risks of sun exposure on employees’ health, particularly when temperatures reach abnormal levels.
The HSE have issued advice to both employers and employees regarding the risks of sun exposure to outdoor workers.
It has been suggested by the HSE that employers should include sun protection advice in routine health and safety training – outdoor workers should have the risks of sun exposure explained to them due to the nature of their job. If an employee is going to be working in a dangerous or hazardous environment then their employer is under a duty to provide training regarding the risks and how to minimise these risks. Why should this differ for those working in the sun?
The HSE have also advised that employers should encourage workers to keep covered up during the summer months and apply sun cream to areas which cannot be covered. Again, where an employee is working in a hazardous environment, their employers are under a duty to provide them with the necessary protective equipment to do their job. When an employee is working outdoors, it is recommended that they wear a wide brimmed hat which covers the ears and neck and that they should keep their top on while working. Employers should be under a duty to ensure employees are not placed at an unnecessary risk by virtue of working outdoors.
The risks faced by those who work outdoors differ from those in the tradition working environment however this does not mean that the duties placed on an employer should be any less onerous.
Blog by Eilish Lindsay