Ask most people about the dangers of working on a construction site and they’ll probably mention accidents or health hazards that come from things like working at height, manual handling, using tools and plant machinery or pollution.

The one thing they probably won’t say is the sun!

We hate to spoil the mood on this lovely, warm September day but, with the sun shining down on our outdoor workforce, it’s a good time to remind everyone of the dangers of the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays and its relation to what’s sometimes called the ‘invisible killer’ – skin cancer.

Over exposure to the sun’s UV rays is now the leading cause of melanoma skin cancers in the UK and, with outdoor workers facing ten time more sun exposure than those who work indoors, the risks are clearly something worth noting.

Many people in the UK often think the weather here is not sunny enough to present a risk of skin cancer and, in their 2020 Sun Safety Survey, S C Johnson Professional found that, among UK health and safety professionals, 76% of were unaware of the true dangers.

However, even under our usually cloudy skies, up to 80% of dangerous UV rays can still get through. And, because of their heightened exposure to the sun, five outdoor workers a day in Britain get skin cancer and 60 people lose their life every year as a direct result.

Both diagnoses and deaths are preventable so, if you work outdoors, here’s what you can do to minimise this risk:

The five S approach

  • SLIP on Sun protective clothing – Keep covered up.
  • SLOP on SPF30 or higher sunscreen – Getting painful sunburn just once every two years can triple the risk of melanoma skin cancer so use a minimum SPF30 sunscreen. Apply this 20 minutes before going outside to all exposed skin areas, then re-apply every 2 hours (more frequently if perspiring).
  • SLAP on a hat – Where possible wear a hat with ear, neck and face protection.
  • SLIDE on some sunglasses – Wear sunglasses (PPE provided) with total UV protection, wrap around lenses or wide arms.
  • SEEK shade – Work in shaded areas where possible. When the sun is particularly strong, try to arrange outdoor work for when the UV rays will be less intensive (before 10am or after 3pm). Stay in the shade during breaks.

With cooler days just around the corner, it may be tempting to relish in that warm feeling of the sun on your skin today or whenever the opportunity still presents itself. We wouldn’t want to tell anyone not to enjoy these moments but would urge people to stay cautious, be aware of the dangers and avoid that burn.


Feature image: Freepik