Sunscreen – Protection from the sun and a HSE prosecution banner


Sunscreen – Protection from the sun and a HSE prosecution

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The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 provides that It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees”.

It will come as no surprise that numerous studies have demonstrated a strong correlation between UV radiation exposure and various types of skin cancers.

The Skin Cancer Foundation states Even one blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence more than doubles your chances of developing melanoma later in life. Skin damage builds up over time starting with your very first sunburn. The more you burn, the greater your risk of skin cancer. Subsequent UV damage can occur even when there is no obvious burn”.

With summertime fast approaching, we are all hoping for long periods of clear blue skies and glorious sunshine.  Whist this may be wishful thinking, the extended hours of daylight and increased strength of the sun as it spends more time directly overhead are guaranteed.  Although it is possible to suffer from sunburn in the other months of the year, the transition into the warmer months brings with it the increased risk of skin damage as a result of the ultraviolet radiation (UV) emitted by the sun.

Employers have a duty to assess the health and safety risks that its employees are exposed to and, as far as is reasonably practicable, take steps to remove or reduce those risks. In particular, Employers with outdoor workers are expected by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to take steps to remove or reduce the risk of its employees suffering from ill effects of being exposed to more sun than is healthy for them.

As with any other work activity that presents a risk to health and safety, employers should adequately inform and educate their employees about the risks, and implement systems to reduce those risks, such as the provision or personal protective equipment (PPE).

The Met Office provides daily forecasts of UV levels using a scale of 1 to 11 (or over) with accompanying advice on what action should be taken for each value. Installing a board at outdoor sites, which shows the current UV level, accompanied by a table with the Met Office’s advice, together with a sunscreen dispenser and/or the provision of long sleeved shirts and trousers would be one reasonably practicable system that could easily be implemented by employers to ensure that their employees are aware of the risk they face from UV exposure and provide them with ways to prevent the UV damaging their skin.

There are numerous companies that provide such equipment and can advise on the best sunscreen and work gear to provide workers with. That being said, most recommendations will be to use SPF 50 sunscreen with UV A, B and C protection.

Whilst this article has concentrated on those that work outdoors, other workers may be exposed to sun damage without realising it. Ordinary glass largely blocks UVB (the primary UV to cause sunburn), however, more than 50 percent of UVA rays can penetrate glass. UVA is the main cause of premature skin aging and both UVA and UVB contribute to the development of skin cancer. It is important for employers to consider all of the health and safety risks that its employees face, some of which may not be obvious, and take reasonably practicable steps to remove or reduce those risks.

For further advice and  guidance on this or any other health and safety related topic, please contact John Ashworth who will be happy to help.

This article is for general guidance only. It provides useful information in a concise form. Action should not be taken without obtaining specific legal advice.
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