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What do managers and business owners need to know about solar radiation?

Following the Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA) health and safety management system method, eight simple steps can be taken to reduce sun exposure for outdoor workers.


Designate a responsible person to implement and develop a solar exposure plan

Mitigating solar radiation exposure is achievable and doesn’t have to be costly. The responsible person should be competent to undertake the task and start by developing a plan to assess the risks of exposure. Consider the following points.

  • Do any workers regularly work outside?
  • What time of day or year do they work outside?
  • Are workers exposed to higher levels of solar radiation for significant periods? Remember that even on cloudy days there can be enough radiation to damage the skin. Between 30 and 40 per cent of ultraviolet (UV) can penetrate overcast skies, and up to 80 per cent gets through sky that is half covered in clouds. The strength of solar UV isn’t connected to temperature and can bounce off reflective surfaces such as metal, water, snow, ice, pavements, some concrete finishes and grass.
  • Where are the workers located geographically? Consider their altitude, latitude, and the o-zone content in the area.
  • Are workers exposed to any photosensitising substances?
  • Are workers protected from the effects of solar radiation?


Complete an organisational solar risk assessment

Consider who might be exposed to solar radiation throughout the organisation. What tasks will they be doing that may expose them to UV? 

Communicate the risks

Communicate the risks to those who are potentially exposed and involved with outdoor working tasks. As good practice, whether it is law or not in your country, workers should be informed of the level of risk to health and what precautions they must implement to keep themselves and others safe. Contractors should also be informed of solar exposure risks.

Implement suitable control measures focusing on eliminating or reducing solar exposure

This will include:

  • moving outdoor work to an inside setting, if possible
  • reducing exposure by providing shade, covers and cooling systems. Reflective surfaces can also be covered or moved.
  • implementing administrative controls such as changing work schedules, so work is carried out when UV levels are lower, or providing training.
  • providing suitable personal protective equipment (PPE) where required, such as sunscreen or clothing, to protect workers.

Provide workers with information, instructions and training on solar exposure

It is good practice to provide solar exposure awareness training to workers whose activity may involve working outdoors. They should be given information about the risks and how exposure can be prevented. download or order copies of our free leaflet, ‘Skin deep?’ and posters, reminding workers of protective measures.

Organisations must provide information, instruction, and training to affected workers. IOSH’s sun safety in construction film is a good introduction and is relevant in most outdoor sectors. The hard-hitting short film can be used as part of toolbox talks and induction training and is designed to get across the risks of over-exposure to solar radiation – and how to protect people at work. There is also a ‘My story’ film, featuring a skin cancer sufferer, to highlight the dangers of sun exposure. For a lighter approach, the ‘Fake or for real’ mythbuster quiz may be suitable.

If management teams are required to brief workers about the risks from solar radiation, then use the IOSH ‘Sun safety’ film to set the scene, and hand out the briefing sheet, giving a quick overview of the risks, and how to mitigate them. IOSH-commissioned research into the United Kingdom construction sector, focusing on large construction companies, found more than 70 per cent of workers had never had any sort of training on the risks of working in the sun.

Fact: up to 80 per cent of UV rays can penetrate clouds


Investigate solar exposure-related incidents

Solar exposure incidents must be investigated to identify causes. The investigation must check if:

  • the solar exposure plan was accurate and shared
  • if local procedures were implemented and followed correctly
  • whether those exposed had been informed of the risks associated with solar exposure
  • whether those exposed had been provided with relevant training and PPE.

A note should be made in the personal records of those exposed with solar-related injuries. Records should include when the incident happened, how long it lasted, and the outcome of the exposure.

Consider submitting exposed workers to an organisation health monitoring and surveillance programme.

Monitor to ensure controls are effective and exposure levels are not breached and arrange health surveillance for workers

Monitoring controls is important to check whether they are suitable and working to eliminate/reduce solar exposure.

Health monitoring can also be important. Workers should undergo regular health checks by a competent medical professional (this may be through occupational health).


Evaluate and apply learning lessons

After any incident and investigation, learning lessons must be recognised and applied back into the solar exposure plan and health and safety management system. This will help to prevent and reduce the chance of exposures recurring.

The solar exposure plan should be reviewed regularly. This will ensure it remains as accurate as possible. Good practice would be to complete reviews on an annual basis or sooner, if required. For example, a more frequent review may be required if a greater amount of work must be completed outdoors, as more workers may be at risk.