18th July, 2022
Summer might be the best season to work outdoors, but with temperatures rising, what about the dangers? Should you be worried about sun exposure? And how can you stay safe working in extreme heat? Can it ever be too hot to work?
Summer is here! And yes, the Great British summertime might be a little bit... unpredictable. Sun, wind, rain, hail, and anything else mother nature sends our way. But we are usually guaranteed at least a few weeks of warmth and sunshine sometime between May and September.
If you are working outside, you might rejoice in some much-needed warmth. It certainly beats working outdoors in the freezing cold winter months. But what about the dangers?
We have covered the risks of winter working before, but what about summer working? Is it safe?
Most of the time, working in hot weather is safe. A bit of sunshine isn't a bad thing. And it's certainly nice to feel warm. But, in addition to the risks you already need to control, working outside in hot weather brings two additional hazards:
Working outdoors can be more enjoyable in the summer. But the sun and heat can also be dangerous if you don't take precautions.
The sun can make you feel great. You might go on holiday to get even more of it. For many people, a bit of sunshine is a great thing. But top up your vitamin D and not your tan, because working outdoors can expose your skin to more sun than is good for you.
It seems easy to get caught out by the sun when working outdoors. You didn't expect it. Or you forgot to pack the sunscreen on our way out the door.
Perhaps because heatwaves don't happen as often as we would like them in the UK. Or maybe because you have other things on your mind when you go to work.
But in the summer try to make it a habit to wear sunscreen every day, or have a bottle stored in your bag so that it's accessible at work.
If you forget to protect your skin, short-term skin damage from high levels of sun exposure can cause sunburn. This can be painful and uncomfortable for weeks as skin blisters and peels. Even a gradual tan will speed up the ageing of your skin over the long term.
One of the more serious dangers of sun exposure is skin cancer. Skin cancer is one of the most common types of cancer. And UV light from the sun can cause it. The British Skin Foundation says that 40,000 new cases of skin cancer are reported each year. The NHS reports that more than 100,000 new cases of non-melanoma skin cancer are diagnosed each year in the UK.
Overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) light is the main cause of non-melanoma skin cancer. UV light comes from the sun, as well as from artificial tanning sunbeds and sunlamps.
As an outdoor worker, it is hard to completely avoid the sun when it's out. But you can take steps to protect your skin, prevent over-exposure, and lower your risks from some of the more harmful effects of the sun.
Get the sun protection toolbox talk to raise awareness of the risks of sun exposure.
This is the UK. How hot does it really get? Is heat a real problem? Well, yes. Especially at work.
On holiday, you can cool off in the pool or an airconditioned hotel room. And you can probably sit in the shade with an ice-cold drink. Bliss.
But you're not on holiday (sorry!), you're at work.
At work, you might be doing an intense physical task, which is hard enough in a cool environment. Add extra heat to the mix, and you will get hot and sweaty. You might need to wear extra PPE to protect you from other hazards, and it might prevent you from sweating properly and cooling off.
Heat stress occurs when the body's means of controlling its internal temperature starts to fail. As well as air temperature, factors such as work rate, humidity and clothing worn while working may lead to heat stress. Therefore it may not be obvious to someone passing through the workplace that there is a risk of heat stress.
Heat Stress Symptoms:
Heat stress can be serious. It can make you feel unwell, lack concentration, get muscle cramps, and faint. You can develop heat exhaustion, feeling tired and sick, get a headache and feel clammy. At its most serious, heat stress can lead to heatstroke, with confusion, convulsions, and loss of consciousness. Heatstroke can even be fatal.
If you are working outside in the heat, you can take steps to minimise the risk of heat stress and keep cool. Here are some top tips:
First, stay hydrated. Cold drinks will both keep you cool and replace the water lost through sweating.
You should take regular breaks out of the sun and heat, to give your body a chance to cool down and recover. This is especially important if you are doing physically intensive tasks or if you are working in extreme heat.
If you can work in the shade where it is cooler, do so. You can also plan your work so that more intensive tasks take place early or late when the temperature is lower.
There's currently no upper limit on working temperature, but that doesn't mean that it's never too hot to work. Like with all things health and safety, employers have a health and safety responsibility to their workers.
Depending on the work you do, it may be too hot to safely work in extreme heat (e.g. temperatures above 30C).
That might mean stopping work for the day, during certain hours, or taking longer breaks during the hottest parts of the day. Or it might mean re-scheduling work so that you can work in a cooler environment (like in the shade or indoors). Or stopping certain activities, like physically intensive work or high-risk tasks.
A decision on if it is safe to work, and the type of work that is safe, can be made based on a risk assessment of the heat, the environment, and the type of work planned.
You may need to make extra allowances. Particularly during longer spells of hot weather. Like specialist PPE to keep you cool and safe. Or installing fans and air conditioning in break areas.
Be especially careful if you're not used to working in hot environments. Your body needs time to adjust to working in the heat. If a sudden heatwave arrives, give yourself time to get used to working in hot weather. Be extra careful the first few days.
Enjoy the summer and warm weather, but don't forget to look after your health. Working outdoors? Download the working in hot weather toolbox talk for you and your team.
This article was written by Emma at HASpod. Emma has over 10 years experience in health and safety and BSc (Hons) Construction Management. She is NEBOSH qualified and Tech IOSH.
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