Heat and Sun protection

Protect yourself against the sun

While most of us enjoy a warm and sunny day, too much exposure to the sun can have severe risks for our skin and health. People working outdoors, such as construction workers, face an even higher risk as they are more exposed to the damaging ultraviolet rays (UV) in sunlight than people working inside.

The effect that ultraviolet rays can have on the skin include sunburn, blistering, aging of the skin, and in the long run it can lead to skin cancer. More than 123,808 people are admitted to hospital  with skin cancer each year, making it one of the most common forms of cancer in the UK with over 2,300 people dying from the disease every year.

Nevertheless, there are various ways to protect yourself:

  • Protecting yourself starts with realising that a tan is not healthy, but evidence that the skin has already been damaged.
  • Keep your top on. Wear a long-sleeved T-shirt made from a close-woven fabric that stops the UV rays coming through to your skin.
  • Always use suncream, even if the sun does not appear to be strong. Use a Sun Protection Factor of 15 or higher. Don’t forget to apply the cream to the ears, neck and back of your hands.
  • Take your breaks in the shade – and be particularly careful in the three or four hours around midday when the sun is hottest.
  • Always wear a safety helmet on site, which also provides sun protection for your head.
  • While workers of all ethnic backgrounds should be very careful, most at risk are those with a pale skin, with fair or red hair, a lot of freckles or moles and those with a family history of skin cancer.
  • Check your skin regularly for unusual spots or moles that change size, shape or colour or that start bleeding; seek prompt medical advice if you do find anything of concern.

Further information:

HSE Website: www.hse.gov.uk/temperature/issuesandrisks/sunprotection.htm

Cancer Research UK: Sun Smart Website

TUC: Skin Cancer and Outdoor workers – a guide for Safety reps: www.tuc.org.uk/extras/skincancer.pdf

Protect yourself against heat stress

It is equally important to take precautions against heat stress.

Heat stress arises when the body is not able to control its internal temperature. This occurrs when the body produces heat but insufficient heat is lost, leading to an increased body temperature and a high amount of sweating as the body is attempting to cool down.

Typical symptoms of heat stress include: heat rashes, nausea, fainting, muscle cramps, extreme fatigue and headaches. A heat stroke is the most severe effect and can result in death if not treated early.

Factors that facilitate the occurrence of heat stress include hot air temperature, humidity and high work rate, which are common features on construction sites in the summer.

However, the risk of heat stress can be reduced by not getting dehydrated (which is the case when the body is not getting enough liquid).

  1. The golden rule to avoid dehydration and heat stress is to drink enough liquid. This is because by sweating the body loses vital water that needs to be replaced.
  2. Remember that thirst is a sign that the body is already dehydrated.
  3. Ensure that you drink frequently in small amounts before, during (this however is not always possible, e.g. during asbestos removal) and after work.​
  4. As a guideline, the Food Standard Agency recommends to drink 1 to 2 litres of water every day. When being physically active or in hot weather, the fluid intake needs to be increased drinking up to one litre of water per hour.​
  5. As well as water, you can drink diluted fruit juice, diluted fruit squash and semi-skimmed milk.​
  6. Be aware that water should be provided by the employer. It must be free from contamination (either from the public water supply or bottled water dispensers) and easily accessible. There should be adequate supplies, and taps and containers should be clearly and correctly labeled as drinking water.
  7. Even though you might have less appetite when it is warm, do not forget to eat at regular intervals as well. Not eating properly can intensify health-related problems. Also try to eat cold food such as salads and fruit, which contain water.
  8. Don’t leave food in the sun. When it is hot, bugs can multiply even quicker than normally, which increases the risk of food poisoning.

Further information:

HSE Website: www.hse.gov.uk/temperature/heatstress/

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