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Managing the risks of UV exposure when working outdoors

In Ireland where the arrival of sunny weather is celebrated, the risks posed to outdoor workers must not be overlooked. Outdoor work remains commonplace across various sectors like construction, agriculture, and landscaping.

While often underestimated, prolonged exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation poses a significant risk to health, ranging from sunburn to skin cancer. Sunshine is a natural source of UV radiation. It consists of UVA, UVB, and UVC rays, with UVA and UVB being the most concerning for human health.

UVA rays penetrate the skin deeply, contributing to premature ageing and skin cancer, while UVB rays primarily cause sunburn and can also lead to skin cancer.

Despite the common misconception that UV radiation is only a concern on sunny days, workers are at risk even on cloudy or overcast days, as UV rays can penetrate cloud cover.

When the UV level (measured in a scale called the UV Index) is three or above (moderate to high) protective measures should be taken when working outdoors. The UV index in Ireland is typically three or above between 11am to 3pm, April through to September.

In accordance with section 8(2)(d) and section 19 of the Safety, Health and Welfare Act 2005, employers are required to carry out a risk assessment and put protective measures in place.

Practices tailored to outdoor work environments should be implemented. Firstly, education is key.

Providing workers with training and awareness on the dangers of UV radiation exposure, as well as the importance of sun protection measures, empowers them to make informed decisions regarding their health. This includes recognising the signs of overexposure and understanding the importance of seeking shade where possible during peak UV hours.

Also important for employers to consider is the provision of appropriate PPE and work planning, to create a work environment where the risk of sun-related illnesses is minimised, ensuring the well-being of their workforce for years to come.

The HSA, in partnership with the National Cancer Control Programme (NCCP) provide tools and resources for employers, available on our website here.

The HSA promote the NCCP and Healthy Ireland’s SunSmart campaign, with the 5S’s practical measures for sun protection and remind employers to review outdoor work during peak season, and UV exposure will be included in HSA inspections.

In 2023 a new employee leaflet was developed with stakeholders in the construction sector, available for download here.

For further information and useful resources, including videos and posters, visit: