Last year I wrote an article called ‘How to avoid heat stress at the office and on site’ and as we have once again just had Sun Awareness Week I thought it appropriate to update my article in order to focus more on the impact to personnel who work outdoors.
In the HVAC industry there are numerous types of job roles and functions that require work to be undertaken in an outside environment. In fact from a contractor delivering and installing a system to a technician maintaining outdoor units, working outside affects almost everyone who is involved in building services and the built environment.
What’s more, for those who do work outside, research has shown that they are at a significant higher risk of getting skin cancer due to high exposure to UV rays and chemicals. In fact, unlike those who work in other outdoor occupations like agriculture, construction workers especially are at a high risk of skin cancer, highlighting how our industry needs to sit up and take action.
So aside from mitigating the risks on site when it comes to summer safety (wearing appropriate clothing, gloves, shoes and goggles) and avoiding heat stress (stay hydrated), what can you do to limit your exposure to harmful rays?
What is skin cancer?
According to the British Skin Foundation skin cancer affects around 100,000 people year and kills over 2,500. There are 3 types of skin cancer: malignant melanoma; squamous cell carcinoma (SCC); and basal cell carcinoma (BCC).
Malignant melanoma is a cancer of the pigment cells of the skin and is the type we most commonly associate with the illness because it affects the look of our moles.
Squamous cell carcinoma is mostly caused by exposure to UV light; this is one of the forms of cancer most likely to affect a builder and looks like a scabbed spot/ tumour on the surface of the skin.
Basal cell carcinoma is a non-melanoma skin cancer, and is the most common type diagnosed. Again it is caused by exposure to UV light however it mainly affects fair skinned adults. Outside workers are also at high risk of this form and the sign of this is a skin ulcer.
Sun safety tips
If you have the ability to organise your day into what time you spend outdoors and what time you spend indoors, the NHS recommends avoiding the sun between the hours of 11am and 3pm from March to October. Therefore going outdoors in the morning or late afternoon would limit your exposure and hopefully wouldn’t impact your working day too negatively.
In my previous article I mentioned wearing appropriate clothing to help deal with mitigating risks like dropping heavy items due to sweaty palms etc. But in addition to this, clothing in summer should be your best protection against the sun. Long sleeve tops, breathable cotton trousers, a wide brim hat, sunglasses or a safety helmet are the best ways to cover up and stay cool when outside and on site (along with the appropriate safety gear your job requires). Sun creams help with this protection but should ideally be used in combination with suitable clothing – not in place of it.
If you do work outside it’s best to take note of the areas of your body that are more likely to catch the sun and burn. Most tradesmen tend to wear combat shorts in the summer with large steel cap boots so their shins are at risk of exposure. Construction workers who wear safety helmets often forget the exposure to the backs of their necks and the temptation to wear t-shirts make your arms and shoulders visible to burning.
It’s also important to note that if you spend a lot of time driving, UV rays can penetrate car/van windows so it’s important to protect yourself in this situation too.
Once you know the areas of your body most likely to get exposed and burnt, it’s worth concentrating a higher block of sun cream to those areas more regularly.
Look out for the warnings
If working outside throughout the day is unavoidable, aside from implementing sun safety measures, it is also important that you look out for the warnings. These could be:
- A small scabby spot that does not clear after a few weeks
- Changing or newly formed moles, or moles that bleed
It is also recommended that you explain to your Doctor the occupation you work in so that they can help you ensure regular check-ups throughout the year.
When it comes to working outside, while the temptation to remove the layers and soak up the rays is high, you need to think sensibly about what is the best way for you to reduce your risk of exposure.
Either way, with the number of skin cancer cases reaching 100,000 diagnoses a year, the healthiest thing you can do is know your skin, protect your skin, and check your skin before it’s too late.
*I wrote this article based on reading articles for the NHS, the British Skin Foundation and other government and health associations. If you want any more information of this topic I would recommend looking at those sites too.*