Protecting outdoor workers during heatwaves

With the temperatures set to soar to over 30oC in parts of the UK this week, the TUC is calling on employers to make sure their staff working outdoors are properly protected from the sun and the heat.

Staff working outside in high temperatures are at risk of sunstroke, sunburn and even skin cancer. Working in hot weather can also lead to dehydration, tiredness, muscle cramps, rashes, fainting, and – in the most severe cases – loss of consciousness.

The TUC suggests bosses work with their health and safety union reps and introduce the following measures to protect their staff who work outdoors when the temperatures rise:

1.  Allow staff to take frequent breaks and provide a supply of drinking water.

2.  Review working times so that outside work is done in the morning and afternoon, rather than between 11am-3pm when temperatures are highest.

3.  Provide canopies or covering over open areas such as building sites, and provide shaded areas for breaks.

4.  Ensure that outdoor workers are supplied with sunscreen and are given advice on the need to protect themselves from the heat and sun.

5.  Provide lightweight brimmed hats for all outdoor workers and make sure that any protective clothing is lightweight, long-sleeved and comfortable, but dense enough to prevent UV rays from getting through.

6.  Provide information on avoiding exposure to harmful UV radiation, ensuring that advice is available in other languages for migrant workers.

These measures will be most effective if the workforce are involved in the decisions, in particular on types of protective clothing and sun-screen provided. The arguments for change must be given in a way that shows that these measures are intended to help keep employees healthy, prevent cancer and keep cool. 

Heat can also be a problem for workers whose job involves driving. This is dangerous as any driver suffering from fatigue is a major risk to both themselves and other people. Employers should provide cars, vans or lorries with air conditioning, or, if a driver is likely to be stuck in traffic for any length of time, make sure they are not driving in very hot weather.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “We treat our farmyard animals better than some of our agricultural workers. At least animals get shelter and a supply of water in the heat.

“Working outdoors in sweltering conditions can be unbearable and dangerous and bosses must ensure their staff are protected as much as possible, with regular breaks, lots of fluids, plenty of sunscreen and the right protective clothing.

“Anyone worried about their working conditions should join a union, it’s the best way to stay safe at work and make sure you are represented and your voice heard.”

Please visit our advice pages for more information on working through the summer heat.