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July 20, 2008

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Just ask- sun protection for outdoor workers

We have a number of employees working outdoors during the summer. Their union has demanded that we provide them with sun cream. Under health and safety legislation are we obliged to do so?

HSE publication INDG337: Sun Protection — Advice for Employers of Outdoor Workers, states that “UV radiation should be considered an occupational hazard for people who work outdoors” and, as such, the normal legal requirements would apply.

As the employer, there is an obligation to control risks, based on the hierarchy contained in the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. As such, the use of sun cream may be deemed to be such a control measure and, in that sense, there is a legal obligation to provide such cream.

However, it should be borne in mind that the use of creams is towards the end of the hierarchy and, in reality, a number of methods can be used to prevent exposure, including:

* Examine the possibility of some outdoor jobs being done inside, or in a shady location;

* Reschedule some outdoor work to be done earlier or later in the day, when the UV radiation is less intense;

* Provide personal protection — appropriate clothing, hats, sunscreen, etc;

* Provide people who work in the sun with the appropriate training and education so they understand the dangers.

In terms of personal protection, clothing is the best form but sunscreen creams and lotions can add useful protection, and may provide a level of protection for areas of skin that are not covered by sun-protection clothing. Sunscreen should never be relied on alone to protect against UV exposure. It is not a ‘block-out’ and it is still possible for some UV radiation to get through to cause skin damage.

Broad-spectrum sunscreens provide protection against UV-B rays and some UV-A rays. A water-resistant sunscreen may be suitable in some circumstances. The higher the ‘sun protection factor’ (SPF) the greater the protection, and the HSE recommends an SPF of 15 or more, as this will normally block out 94 per cent of solar UV radiation.

The effectiveness of sunscreen depends very much on its correct use. Too much sunscreen can reduce sweating and cause heat stress, while too little will not provide adequate protection. In dusty work conditions, sunscreen may give rise to a secondary hazard, particularly if the dust is of a hazardous nature, such as cement powder. In such situations, the use of an alcohol-based sunscreen is better suited.

The possibility of hypersensitivity and allergies must not be overlooked, and workers with allergies should be made aware of the potential problem and seek medical advice, if necessary.DISCLAIMER
Every care is taken in the preparation of these questions and answers, which are supplied by Croner Consulting, a trading division of WoltersKluwer(UK) Ltd. Any advice or guidance contained herein is not to be taken as the official advice or guidance of IOSH or SHP/UBM. The information is correct at the time the answer was formulated and posted. However, the answers given can only address the general principles involved. Professional advice must be sought on any specific query or problem your business has relating to any issue or area raised.

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