With British temperatures rising each summer, most people are aware of the dangers of skin cancer and sunburn; however, when your employees work outside, how can they protect themselves from summer heat waves? Sun cream is one of the easiest and most logical answers - outside of protective clothing, hats, and sunglasses - but do employers have to provide sun cream for employees?
The Ugly Truth About Suntans
In 2014 alone, nearly 2,500 people died from skin cancer, according to Cancer Research UK, and 86% of those cases were thought to be preventable. Although many people love the look of a suntan there’s often a fine line between tan and burn, especially for those not used to living in the sun, and even a suntan means the outer layers of skin have been damaged. A suntan is the body’s natural defense mechanism to try and protect itself from damaging ultraviolet rays, but when its natural defenses are overwhelmed, a toxic reaction results in a sunburn.
Does Sun Cream Prevent Cancer?
Sun cream can certainly help protect the body from some types of skin cancer. Sun cream - depending on the SPF (sun protection factor) - protects the skin from UVA and UVB rays for a prescribed period of time, which is especially important when working outside in the sun. Sun Protection factors measure how well the sun cream protects the skin from radiation that causes sunburn, damage, and contributes to skin cancer.
For example, if your skin would normally burn after 10 minutes of exposure to the sun and you apply SPF 15, sun cream would allow you to stay in the sun without burning for 150 minutes (a factor of 15 times longer than your normal burn time). It’s a rough time estimate based on skin type, the sun’s intensity, and the amount of sun cream you use. It’s recommended you always use a minimum of SPF 15, and apply the proper amount, reapplying every two hours. You need 2 milligrams per centimetre square of skin (an ounce for full body coverage). Many people under apply their sun cream, which only protects the skin by the square root of the SPF, so half an application of SPF 30 will protect the skin only 5.5 times your burn factor (SPF 5.5).
Moderate sun tanning without burning can prevent any subsequent burns (but this line can be dangerous if crossed). As melanin is produced to protect the skin naturally against overexposure, the skin tans. Sunburn often triggers direct DNA damage, which can trigger type I cell death and the skin is replaced, but the DNA damage can cause faulty replication later (which is cancer).
Combined with protective clothing, sunglasses, and hats, sun cream is your best bet against the harmful rays of the sun.
Do Employers Have to Provide Sun Cream?
The short answer is no, there’s no legal obligation to provide sun cream for your workers; however, The PPE at Work Regulation of 1992 notes that employees must be provided with suitable PPE for work conditions, and that means work conditions and weather should be taken into account.
So, even if you do not have to provide this type of sun protection, it’s advisable that employers provide sun protection advice and training as part of any health and safety training. However, if the employees themselves do not manage their own PPE responsibilities then all employers can do is reinforce the importance of protective equipment and sun cream - and the responsibility is passed to the employee.
The figurative red tape prevents many employers from providing sun cream. What if it reacts with some people’s skin type? What if this type of cream is provided and workers still get burned (because they put themselves at risk) will I be blamed? If you do want to provide added protection, you may consider providing sun cream free of charge, but with a disclaimer that you’re not liable for employee misuse (such as not applying enough sun cream or not applying every two hours), assuming you’ve put other safety factors in place - drinking water, shady spots, limiting exposure, appropriate clothing, and so forth.
Most people think that if they load up on factor 50, they’ll load up on the protection, but that’s not the case. SPF is a scale and not a linear measure.
- SPF 15 blocks 93% of UVB rays
- SPF 30 blocks 97% of UVB rays
- SPF 50 blocks 98% of UVB rays
SPF 30 only blocks half of the radiation of SPF 15, so you’re not really doubling your protection by slapping on a higher SPF. Higher protection suncreams like factor 75 and 100 only provide more UVA protection, and do not provide significant increase in UVB protection.
How Can I Protect My Workers From Harm?
Provide appropriate protective clothing, hats, and eyewear. Limit exposure to the sun by scheduling work when the sun is not at its hottest (10 am to 4 pm). Be aware that external weather factors also affect the sun’s rays, such as cloud cover, proximity to water, sand, reflective surfaces, concrete, snow, and ice. Altitude and Latitude play a factor as well. Allow your workers to take frequent breaks in shady spots, and provide adequate water since sun can not only burn your workers but cause undue fatigue as well.
At Xamax, we have many sun-safe products available to protect your workers from harm in the unsafe British sun (or wherever they are working).
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