If you’re anything like us, you enjoy the warm weather and light nights of summer.
But for workers spending long days indoors or outdoors, summer weather becomes a risk.
“Hot summer months pose special hazards for outdoor workers who must protect themselves against heat, sun exposure, and other hazards. Employers and employees should know the potential hazards in their workplaces and how to manage them.”
As echoed in our Top Winter Safety Tips for the Workplace blog, regardless of the weather, employees should be safe at work.
Besides posing a risk to employees’ health, uncomfortable working temperatures contribute to lower productivity levels. So, even if the weather is not warm enough to affect health and safety, a comfortable working environment is still necessary.
Of course, as climate change induces warmer weather – take the recent record-breaking heatwave in Europe, for example – the consequential heat stress in workers will grossly impact global productivity and economic losses.
Currently the UK has no laws regarding maximum safe working temperatures, however, there are moves towards introducing one. The Labour party, with several unions' support, have proposed that employers must take 'effective measures' when the temperature reaches 30°C (86°F), or 27°C for strenuous workers.
However, there are ways employers can protect workers in summer. This blog post covers the illnesses commonly induced by warm, sunny weather, and the top summer safety tips for workers. Let’s dive in.
Summer Workplace Risks
Firstly, these summer safety tips for workers apply to both indoor and outdoor staff.
While some indoor workers are already exposed to high temperatures – chemical plants, material handling and distribution warehouses – the summer weather can exacerbate it.
However, outdoor workers also have the added risk of UV light exposure.
Heat stress is caused when the body is unable to regulate its internal temperature and overheats. Moreover, it’s not just the air temperature resulting in heat stress: work rate, humidity and clothing are all contributing factors.
According to the HSE, typical symptoms of heat stress include:
- poor concentration
- muscle cramps
- heat rash
- heat exhaustion – fatigue, giddiness, nausea, headache, damp skin
- severe thirst – a late symptom of heat stress
- heat stroke – this is the most severe disorder and can result in death if not detected at an early stage
If not mitigated or treated in time, heat stress is catastrophic.
On the other hand, outdoor workers have the added risk of UV ray exposure from the sun.
You wouldn't sit on a sunny beach without taking precaution, so outdoor workers should not either.
Excessive sunlight exposure damages the skin and can cause skin cancer. In fact, even a tan indicates skin damage.
While UV rays are stronger near the equator and at a high altitude, sun exposure is still a risk in places with stereotypically overcast weather, for example, the UK.
One UK study found the level of UV rays workers are exposed to over a working lifetime could cause non-melanoma skin cancer.
In the US, if a worker gets skin cancer due to unprotected sun exposure at the workplace, then some states order employers to pay compensation.
The HSE recommends people with the following to take extra care when exposed to prolonged, intense sunlight: “fair or freckled skin that doesn’t tan, or goes red or burns before it tans; red or fair hair and light coloured eyes; or a large number of moles.”
Tan and sunburn are short term consequences of sun damage. Long-term results included aged and wrinkled skin, and skin cancer.
How to Mitigate Workplace Summer Risks
So, now we know the risks workers face during the summer, let’s look at how you can prevent them.
After the 2018 heatwave in the UK, employers were pushed to provide workers with high-protection sun cream.
However, some workers and site managers may underestimate the danger of UV rays. Some avoid sunscreen so they can work on their tan and others find applying sunscreen too much hassle.
Sunscreen is one of the most effective ways of preventing sun damage to skin. Sunscreen with a SPF 30 filters 97% of UVB rays. 30 SPF suncream must be applied generously every few hours. Remember that sweat can cause sunscreen to wear off.
Correct clothing is another effective method. Wearing loose-fitting pants and long-sleeved shirts, wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses can all prevent sun damage.
Of course, these precautions should not just be limited to sunny days – 80% of UV rays can filter through clouds.
Protecting outdoor workers from the sun is crucial. A study by the Occupational Safety and Health in the UK found that 1,740 cases of workplace non-melanoma and malignant melanoma skin cancer cases could have been prevented with employer ‘sun safety strategies’.
Preventing heat stress
Dozens of workplace fatalities and thousands of workplace illnesses are caused by hot and humid conditions. Nevertheless, there are many precautions employers can take. Let’s take a look.
Ensure drinking water is readily available. OSHA recommends encouraging workers to drink a cup of water every 15 minutes, the equivalent to one litre an hour. Also, workers should drink up to 16 ounces of fluid before a shift starts.
Recognise the signs
Train staff on the dangers of working in the sun and how to recognise heat-related illnesses in their workers. This can also be coupled with a buddy-up system, so workers can keep an eye on each other.
Even better, employers and employees can track the heat and heat stress by using apps, like this one by OSHA.
Breaks in the shade
As well providing drinking water, employers should also provide shaded areas for breaks. Generally, activity should be reduced in hot weather, especially between the hottest hours of the day. Allow staff to take regular breaks, too.
Monitor workers wearing PPE
PPE is heavy. Workers may be reluctant to wear it in warm weather, and it is known to increase the chances of heat stress. However, PPE removal exposes the worker to other risks.
Combat this with cooling vests – vests containing ice gel packs worn under PPE – or by acclimatising workers to hot weather.
Even though some of us may enjoy the long, hot summer days, we cannot forget the risk it brings to workers. These top summer safety tips for workers takes precautions against sun and heat exposure, creating a year-round safe work culture.