Climate change and global warming are now regular topics on our news platforms of choice, with record breaking temperatures every month since January, give us a fair idea of what the British Summer has in store for us this year.
According to provisional Met Office figures, temperatures for June 2023 in the UK are the highest in a series since 1884, with England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all reporting their respective warmest June on record, topping out at 32.2°C.
True to form, as the weather heats up those of us who spend all of our time indoors at work will, in our spare time, be heading out into our gardens or up the coast in an attempt to soak up some sun. In contrast, those employees that spend large amounts of time working outdoors have the opposite problem of making sure that their skin is not over exposed, and they keep well hydrated, especially when doing physical work.
So, what do the experts tell us about this periodic British opportunity of a potentially decent summer?
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) considers matters within the workplace, reminding organisations and Managers responsible for workers whose job keeps them outside for most of the day. Their relevant leaflet INDG337: Sun Protection: Advice for Employers of Outdoor Workers gives advice on reducing the health risks for employees when they are working in the sun.
The leaflet advises outdoor workers to follow the sun protection six-point code:
- Keep tops on to act as a barrier from the rays of the sun.
- Wear a suitable hat, especially one with a brim or flap that protects the ears and back of the neck.
- Stay in the shade wherever possible, especially at break times.
- Use a high factor sunscreen on any exposed skin.
- Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.
- Check skin regularly for any unusual moles or spots, and see the doctor promptly if anything is changing in shape, size or colour, itching or bleeding.
Employers or Managers responsible for outdoor workers should make their workers aware of the above points, and especially:
- Include sun protection advice in routine health and safety training, as well as informing workers that a tan is not healthy but a sign that skin has already been damaged by the sun.
- Make sure that they drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration, siting water points and rest areas in the shade.
- Encourage workers to keep covered up with hats and long-sleeved shirts during the summer months, especially at lunch time when the sun is at its hottest.
- Encourage workers to use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15.
- Consult with employees and take their views into account when introducing any new sun safety initiatives.
The HSE says, “UV radiation should be considered an occupational hazard for people who work outdoors” so this needs to be considered as part of any generic workplace risk assessment undertaken.
Other workers that need to be considered are those that work in hot conditions all year round, but when there is additional summer heat, their environments can get even hotter. These can range from professional kitchens, bakeries, laundries and boiler rooms through to heavy industrial processing activities, such as smelting or welding. These workers are at risk of heat stress, which is when the body’s means of controlling its internal temperature starts to fail. Air temperature, work rate, humidity and work clothing are all factors that can cause heat stress; the problem being is that it is not an obvious risk to people that are only passing through rather than actually working there. Factors to reduce risks include:
- Control the temperature, e.g. fans or air conditioning.
- Provide mechanical aids to reduce work rates.
- Regulate the length of exposure, e.g. job rotation.
- Prevent dehydration encouraging people to drink small amounts frequently during and after working.
- Provide training about heat risks, symptoms of heat stress, safe working practices and emergency procedures. Make sure first aiders know about what to look out for and what treatment to provide as well.
- Allow workers to acclimatise to their environment, and assess whether they are fit to work.
- Identify those who may be more susceptible due to illness, a medical condition or medication that can bring on early onset of heat stress, e.g. pregnant women or those with heart conditions.
- Monitor the health of workers at risk and seek OH advice if necessary.
There are useful tools available to help you assess your stress heat risks, including a PDF checklist, at: http://www.hse.gov.uk/temperature/employer/heat-stress.htm.
Finally, for those that are simply suffering the heat in an office environment, there is no upper temperature limit that employers must adhere to. However, the Workplace, Health, Safety & Welfare Regulations do require that working areas should be adequately ventilated with clean fresh air drawn from a source outside of the workplace with suitable circulation. That can mean either opening windows to switching on the air conditioning. Don’t forget that those air conditioning units need to be periodically serviced so that filters can be cleaned to reduce the risk of legionella. High quality drinking water must be readily available to all workers. Even workers that spend many hours in a vehicle driving can suffer with heat exhaustion, increasing the risk of accidents, so make sure that they carry plenty of fresh drinking water in their vehicles, switch on the air conditioning, and take appropriate rests, especially when driving at the hottest time of the day.
So, check that your risk assessments cover this welcome advent of the sun, and make sure that your control measures are adequate for all of your workers, indoors and out, and anywhere in between.
When all other reasonable measures are in place, extra drinks provided to staff and an arranged site visit from the local ice-cream van, with a complimentary 99, can all go a very long way to support and help your teams cope with the best of the British weather this Summer!
The BackupHR team will be pleased to advise you on any element of the issues arising from this newsletter.
Information contained within this newsletter was correct at the time of publishing.