Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the world and Britain sees 1,700 people diagnosed every year as a direct cause of occupational sun exposure. Despite growing awareness of the risk of unprotected UV exposure, SC Johnson Professional conducted a survey in 2020 and found that 76% of UK health and safety professionals were unaware of the danger, stating that they did not know that 1 death and 5 new cases of skin cancer per week in Britain could be attributed to occupational UV exposure.

It is key that awareness is raised around the potential dangers of over-exposure to UV radiation, among both employees and health and safety professionals. Building on studies conducted in 2017 and 2019 with outdoor workers, this year SC Johnson Professional’s UV study surveyed health and safety officials at UK companies, with 114 participating. This four-year research project is intended to understand the gaps in awareness of UV dangers among outdoor workers, discover what employers are doing to help protect their workforce and the challenges they are facing, along with providing recommendations on best practice for employers in providing protective skin creams.

Are you the 1 in 3 not providing UV protection?
Among the key findings, 1 in 3 health and safety professionals stated that their organisation did not provide any UV protection to outdoor workers. Despite still leaving a third of the workforce vulnerable, outdoor workers themselves painted a starker picture: 2 in 3 said their organisation did not provide UV protection to them in the 2019 survey.

What is the HSE’s position on UV safeguarding?
Lack of provision may be due to the fact that 40% of these professionals claimed that employees provided their own UV protection. This result was despite the Health and Safety at Work Act, which states that every employer has a legal duty to safeguard, as far as is reasonably practical, the health of their employees. According to Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidelines, UV radiation should be considered an occupational hazard for those who work outdoors. Despite this, in their 2019 survey, SC Johnson Professional discovered that 87% of non-wearers of sun cream stated that there was no UV protection product made available in their workplace. Of those who did use sun cream however, only 27% were provided with the product by their employer.

Who’s aware of the dangers from UV?
Further to this, when asked why they felt that a large number of employees did not use UV protection, 45% of health and safety professionals admitted that this was due to a lack of awareness around the dangers of UV exposure. However, it was concerning that 30% of health and safety professionals said that it was due to a general belief among employees that UV protection at work in the UK is unnecessary.

More still needs to be done
Last year, 136 outdoor workers participated in SC Johnson Professional’s survey regarding their UV protection habits during the summer of 2018 (one of the hottest on record). It was found that only 1 in 4 wore protective sun cream whilst at work, citing the effort involved as the main reason they did not use any. In contrast to this, 72% of respondents claimed that they would use protective sun cream whilst on holiday, but only 26% would wear sun cream on cloudy days; demonstrating an awareness of the risks but the need for a shift in attitude when it came to protection at work.

In reviewing the data, it was surmised that the larger the number of outdoor workers in a business, the larger the number of health and safety professionals who believe that the workforce is increasingly unaware of the dangers posed by UV radiation from the sun. This then suggests that much more still needs to be done across organisations to raise awareness of this issue.

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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.