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Safe working in the sun

19 Jun 2024 | Technical News

As summer approaches, attention can shift away from keeping warm and dry to cool and protected from the sun.  Application of sunscreen is one option (if not the best) to protect against the effects of ultraviolet (UV) radiation, but who should provide this; employer or employee?

Employers have an obligation to control risks to their employees, based upon the outcomes of risk assessment, by using the hierarchy of control measures identified in the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. Exposure to UV radiation represents a risk to workers, which must be considered and controlled (as far as reasonably practical) by employers.   

The Health and Safety Executive has produced free guidance for those who work outside, which employers may wish to impart as part of a policy.  Precautions include:

  • Where possible, schedule outdoor work early or later in the day, when UV radiation is less intense
  • Cover skin using loose-fitting clothing
  • Wear a hat with a brim or flap, which covers the ears and neck
  • Wear safety glasses which provide UV protection
  • Seek shelter during lunch breaks and whenever possible during working hours
  • Use sunscreen (either SPF30 or SPF50 is advised), which also provides UVA protection
  • Check your body regularly for changes in skin, and report new growths or moles to your doctor immediately
  • Be aware of the need to drink additional water to remain hydrated

Use of sunscreen is just one method of protecting employees and, in terms of personal protection, clothing is a safer option.  Sunscreen can add protection where clothing is not practical, but reliance should not be put on sunscreen alone.  Indeed, it is still possible for some UV radiation to get through sunscreen and cause skin damage.    

A question previously asked by a BALI member concerns sunscreen; is provision the responsibility of the employer or employee?

Employer responsibility for providing sun protection reached the Court of Appeal a few years ago, in the case Tracey Earl v Middlesbrough Council 2014.  In this case, the plaintiff, Tracy Earl, developed a growth on her nose after working for the council as a gardener.  The growth was as a result of ultraviolet radiation damage, and Earl alleged the council should have provided sunscreen and a hat to prevent this.  The judge dismissed the case, on the basis that an employer does not need to provide sunscreen and a hat in order to comply with health and safety rules. 

There is no legal duty for the employer to supply those who work outdoors with sunscreen; it is up to the employee to decide whether they use sunscreen, and what they wear.  Conversely, there is no law which prohibits employers supplying sunscreen. 

It is however a requirement for employers to assess the risks facing their employees.  Highlight these and follow the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidance on sun exposure. 

Further reading:

HSE guidance on sun protection:

Skin at work: Outdoor workers and sun exposure 


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