Working outdoors exposes you to up to 10 times more UV (ultraviolet) radiation than indoor workers. Both employers and workers share a duty of care to reduce workplace exposure to UV radiation.

Depending on skin type, the body reacts differently to direct sunlight. Even if you enjoy the feeling of the sun on your skin, the sun can still be dangerous for you. Underestimating the dangers of UV radiation and extreme heat may have serious consequences, especially if our bodies are exposed to high temperatures for long periods of time.

This may result in sunstrokeheat exhaustion, or heatstroke, which could be fatal.

a thermometer displaying high temperatures

Protecting Workers

There are some practical approaches to protect workers. These include:

Protecting the Skin

Apply sunscreen before going outside to all exposed areas of skin. It should be at least SPF30. Remember to apply it to your ears, nose, and the back of your neck, as well as any exposed skin. Use a UV lip balm for your lips, as skin cancer can develop on lips too. Also remember to protect your eyes, as even clear safety glasses will decrease your UV exposure. Use sun cream generously and reapply regularly. Use together with shade and clothing.


It can be common for some workers to remove clothing items in hot weather to help them to cool down: however, this exposes them to risks. Remember that the correct PPE must always be worn, heat does not mean this vital safeguard can be disregarded. Wearing a bandanna or similar around the back of the neck could help to prevent overheating. Shorts can be worn but remember to apply suncream to exposed areas.

Hydrate and Rest

Workers should increase their water intake to increase hydration and reduce their intake of drinks containing caffeine as this acts as a diuretic and causes you to lose more fluids. The management team should be actively encouraging workers to drink water by offering breaks. Breaks should be in a shaded area with accessible water.

Rearrange Work Schedules

In the UK, the sun’s UV rays are the strongest between 11 am and 3 pm from mid-March to mid-October. During this time the sun may be strong enough to cause damage.

If practical, the management team should rearrange the work so that there is minimal high-intensity work completed outside during the hottest hours of the day. It is understandable that this may not always be possible.

Look after yourself and others.

When busy, it is easy to continue working, not taking your breaks, or to keep going when you are feeling unwell. It is important to look after yourself and others when working in the sun. If you start to feel groggy, get a drink and take a rest in a shaded area. If you notice your team or another worker looking ill or overheating, ask them to drink water and take a rest.

railway workers in the sun

Protecting Workers

Risks with working in the sun include:

Heat Cramps

Heat Cramps cause muscles in the abdomen, arms, and calves to cramp and spasm. This is due to the loss of excessive water and salt from physical activity.

Treatment should include rest in a shaded area and drinking fluids with high sodium, calcium, and magnesium levels such as water and sports drinks. It should be noted that some sports drinks can be high in sugar.

Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke

Heat exhaustion is not always serious unless it progresses to heat stroke. Symptoms of heat exhaustion can include headache, dizziness, nausea/loss of appetite, excessive sweating (pale or clammy skin), cramps in the abdomen, arms, and legs, fast breathing, or an individual having a temperature of 38 degrees or more.

construction worker drinking water

What to do if someone is experiencing heat exhaustion

If you or someone around you is experiencing heat exhaustion you must follow these 4 steps:

  1. Move them to a cool place.
  2. Get them to lie down and raise their feet slightly.
  3. Get them to drink plenty of water. Sports or rehydration drinks are OK.
  4. A person can cool their skin with cold water. Cold packs around the armpits or neck can help to reduce heat.

Stay with them until they feel better. It is advisable to have a trained first aider close by. They should start to cool down and feel better within 30 minutes.

If they don’t start to feel better after this time has elapsed call the emergency services as they are showing signs of heatstroke, which can become very serious quickly. 

For more detailed information on working in the sun contact Optimum Safety on 01522 527544.

Published On: 14th June 2023 / Categories: Health and Safety / Tags: , /

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