Most of us enjoy the hot weather but many of us also find it oppressive and difficult to work in. It is worth reading the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) on workers whose job keeps them outside for most of the day. Their leaflet INDG337: Sun Protection: Advice for Employers of Outdoor Workers gives advice on reducing the health risks for such employees.
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 hat 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.
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 of skin damage.
- Make sure that they drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.
- Encourage workers to keep covered up when the sun is at its hottest.
- Encourage workers to use sunscreen with a protection factor of at least 15.
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 and laundries 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 strenuous work.
- Regulate the length of exposure e.g. job rotation.
- 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 asses if they are fit to work.
- Identify those who may be more susceptible to heat related illness, due to health problems or medication e.g. pregnant women or those with heart conditions.
- Monitor the health of workers at risk and seek OH advice if necessary.
There is a useful example of a heat stress checklist and risk assessment at:
Heat Stress Checklist.
Finally, for those that are simply suffering the heat in an office environment, there is no upper temperature limit that employers must adhere to. The Workplace, Health, Safety & Welfare Regulations however, 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. High quality drinking water must be readily available. Workers who 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.
- Check that your risk assessments cover hot weather
- Make sure that your control measures are adequate for all of your workers, indoors and out, and anyone in between!
The guidance provided in this article is just that – guidance. Before taking any action make sure that you know what you are doing, or call us for a free initial chat on 01480 677980.