More than five outdoor workers are diagnosed with skin cancer every day, yet 90% of skin cancer deaths (IOSH No Time to Lose Solar Radiation Campaign) could be prevented if exposure to UV rays were controlled.

The seriousness of potentially harmful UV rays can often be overlooked in the workplace.  A lack of awareness and insufficient training for employees who work outdoors can ultimately lead to workers being exposed to the dangers and at greater risk of skin cancer.

The summer of 2018 saw the joint hottest temperatures since records began in 1910, and the sun shone 40% more than average. Despite this record-breaking weather, a recent survey with outdoor workers, undertaken by SC Johnson ProfessionalTM and Deb Skin Care, showed that a shocking 28% did not use sun cream at work last summer at all, with only 24% using it regularly. 47% of respondents said that the reason for this was that it was too much effort. ( Survey of 136 professional trade workers in the UK, conducted by SC Johnson Professional ). More focus is clearly needed on raising awareness of the dangers of UV and the simple safeguarding measures that can be taken.

Current attitudes towards UV

Two-thirds of UK construction workers, who spend an average of nearly seven hours per day outside, don’t know the full extent of the dangers.

In a series of videos, SC Johnson ProfessionalTM spoke to outdoor workers who shared their feelings towards UV rays and the use of sun protection creams whilst working outdoors…

“Depending on staff levels, some days I can spend up to 6/7 hours a day outside… I’ve got such a bad attitude towards sun cream, it still isn’t something that I’d think to wear.”- Ollie, a site manager in London

“I’ve not been on any training to educate me about the dangers of UV or working outdoors with sunscreen or protecting yourself.” Warren, a handyman

“I’ve been burnt more on the overcast days than the sunny days. We have common PPE that we need to wear all the time which includes hard hat, glasses and gloves. Sun cream should be made part of the PPE.” Danny, a construction worker

The solution

While it is clear that employees are aware that they have been exposed to the sun when working outdoors, a lack of training and education on site has led to a poor attitude towards the dangers of exposure to the sun and using sun cream protection.

In accordance with HSE guidelines, employers have a duty of care to protect employees from hazards in the workplace and UV radiation should be considered an occupational hazard for outdoor workers, in the same way that PPE equipment is used to protect workers from falls from height or fires.

In reality, the solutions and measures required to provide adequate protection are simple. First and foremost, employers should implement and encourage the adoption of the 5 S approach:

  1. SLIP on sun protection clothing
  2. SLOP on minimum SPF30 sun cream
  3. SLAP on a hat and neck protection
  4. SLIDE on some sunglasses
  5. SHADE from the sun when possible

This approach should be combined with training tools such as toolbox talks, awareness posters and educational guides for employees, and professional sun cream should be made easily accessible to workers around the site.

Even when workers are on the move, moved from site to site or can’t access UV stations, employers can provide high protection sun cream dispensers and tubes that fit into cars or vans. Employers can also provide sun boards with mirrors and UV level indicators, which will ensure workers are encouraged to apply sun cream correctly. Now is the time for employers to make UV protection a part of their PPE. To see our central campaign ‘Think UV’ video, visit

Disclaimer: The information provided through Greenham Pulse is for general guidance only and is not legal advice. Greenham Pulse is not a substitute for Health and Safety consultancy. You should seek independent advice about any legal matter.