As the long, hot days of summer seem to be stretching on far longer than usual this year, you’ve probably already been thinking about sunscreen, particularly if you’re an outdoor worker. But is it enough to just slap on the sun cream on the days when the sun feels exceptionally hot?

Banner showing outdoor workers in hot sunshine with words Protecting-your-workforce-from-the-sun

We don’t often get months of unbroken sunshine in the UK, and this year seems to be breaking all sorts of records. Temperatures have been so high that even the hardiest of outdoor workers are, hopefully, wearing sun protection.

Why do we need to protect our skin from the sun?

woman applying suncream

The ugly truth is that skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the UK and rates are continuing to rise. Most of us are aware of the need to use some form of skin protection when we are on holiday, but far fewer of us think about it when we are at work.

According to figures from Imperial College London, estimates show that there are over 240 cases of melanoma skin cancer and 48 deaths per year linked to workers who are in the sun all day. Although that includes the more obvious industries such as construction workers, it also includes those in the police force and even teachers, outside supervising playtime.

Understanding UV light

UV Levels

Protecting our skin is something most of us only think about in mid-summer. But really, that is not enough. So, how do you know when you should be applying sun cream?

You’ve probably heard weather reporters referring to the UV Index. The UV index was developed by WHO, the World Health Organisation, to alert people to the risks of UV (ultra violet) radiation, and provide a guideline as to when protective measures should be taken.

The higher the level of UV, the more the risk of damage from the sun affecting our skin. In fact, damage can be caused when the UVI is as low as 3 – or in other words, our skin can still be damaged on a cloudy day.

Confusingly, we do need some exposure to UV rays, as our best source of vitamin D. That’s why it is important to understand UV rays, monitor the UVI and know when we need to think about skin protection.

The sun emits two types of UV rays – UVA and UVB. Long term exposure to both can cause damage to our skin. UVA rays are present all year long, and penetrate deeper into the skin. You won’t feel them, but these are the rays that cause premature skin ageing and tanning. UVA rays also penetrate glass, so if you sit near a window, you should still think about protection.

UVB light doesn’t penetrate as deeply as UVA, but the effects are more immediately visible on the surface of your skin. UVB rays are the cause of sunburn, skin discolouration and have a role in causing skin cancer.

Sunscreen and the role of the employer

Deb Sun protect Skin Safety Centre

As there are different types of UV light, it’s important the sun cream you use protects from both. A broad spectrum sun cream, such as the Deb Stoko range, not only protects from UVA and UVB, but also artificial UVC rays, those created in industrial processes such as welding.

Employers have a clear role to play in helping protect the health of their workers, and that includes taking into account long term health risks from the work environment. Providing education and training about sun protection and the appropriate workwear should form part of that care, particularly for outdoor workers.

Another option is to make sun cream available to outdoor workers – with a disclaimer to protect you from misuse, such as failure to apply the cream correctly, regularly or in the event of skin reactions. The Deb Sun Protect Skin Safety Centre provides workers with information on the dangers of sun exposure, and allows you to keep them informed on the daily UVI, giving them all the information they need to take the appropriate care.

As an employer, it’s vital that you factor sun protection into your Health and Safety training – particularly in this exceptionally hot summer. Are you taking enough steps to protect your workforce from the sun?