Working in the Sun

  • Occupational health
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Peninsula Group, HR and Health & Safety Experts

(Last updated )

In this guide, we’ll explore the responsibility of the employer, how to minimise dangers and how to limit them.

Working outdoors comes with a set of hazards, especially on hot or sunny days. As an employer, you need to consider the health and welfare of your employees that work outdoors.

If you don't manage sun safety effectively, your staff could suffer from long-term health issues. This could lead to you facing tribunal claims, legal costs and reputational damages.

In this guide, we’ll explore the responsibility of the employer, how to minimise dangers and waysto limit them.

What is working in the sun?

There are many jobs that require staff to work outdoors. For example, agriculture and construction workers work outside for a majority of the year in all weather conditions. If an employee's role causes them to be exposed to too much UV radiation then they could be at risk.

As an employer, you need to be aware of the risks associated with prolonged sun exposure and UV radiation. This can help you to minimise the risks and put processes in place to help keep staff safe.

What are the risks of sun exposure?

Skin damage can happen fast. Even mild reddening of the skin can be a sign of damage from sun exposure. However there are a range of other issues that you may need to address.

While ultraviolet rays can be very damaging, exposure to high temperatures can also have a big impact on an employee's ability to work.

Exposure to the sun and UV radiation can lead to:

  • Heat stroke or exhaustion.
  • Skin damage.
  • Skin cancer.

Let's explore these dangers in more detail.

Heat stroke

Heat stroke or heat exhaustion happens when an employee is exposed to high temperatures for a prolonged period. Workers need access to a means to cool down, to avoid an increase in their internal temperature.

This can cause dizziness and disorientation which can then increase the chances of an accident. There are some employees that are more susceptible to heat stroke than others. These include:

  • Workers with heart disease.
  • Workers with high blood pressure.
  • Anyone over the age of 65.
  • Anyone overweight.

Employers should pay extra attention to staff that have these attributes. They may need extra provisions to reduce the risks to their health. In some instances you may have to consider moving them to safer or better suited roles.


Dehydration can affect all your staff, including those that work indoors. However, when working outside in direct sunlight, dehydration can develop quickly.

Even a mild case can leave workers feeling confused, irritable and overly sensitive. This can result in poor decision making and an increased risk of accidents and injuries.

Skin damage

UV rays can be very damaging. When employees are exposed to too much sun, they can blister and then peel. This can be very painful, but it's important that employers remember that even visible reddening of the skin can be dangerous.

Repeated damage or exposure, can create serious problems in the future. Skin damage can also lead to premature ageing and over time can leave skin textured and leathery.

Skin cancer

Every year thousands of people in the UK are diagnosed with malignant melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer.

Most skin cancers are preventable meaning that with the right protection, workers can greatly minimise these risks. To ensure this, business owners should provide and encourage staff to use adequate sun protection such as sun cream.

Who is most at risk?

All workers can be affected by excessive sun exposure. However, the length of time that you spend outside plays a huge role in the size of the risk.

Outdoor workers are often exposed to up to five times more sun radiation than those who work indoors. This is because their exposure is mostly limited to traveling to and from work or via windows.

There are some people that must take particular care to protect themselves from the sun. This includes:

  • Those with fair or freckled skin.
  • Workers with red or fair hair and light coloured eyes.
  • Anyone with a large number of moles.
  • Anyone who already has serious skin damage due to a lack of sun protection.

Sun safety is crucial for everyone regardless of their race or skin colour. Glare, dehydration and overheating can affect all workers no matter their physical attributes.

What does the law say about protecting employees?

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations and the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, states that business owners are responsible for the safety and wellbeing of everyone on their site. This includes any members of staff performing work either on or offsite.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) ensures that business owners carry out their duty of care to protect staff and provide a safe work setting. Fail to do so, and businesses could face costly legal claims and financial penalties.

How can you limit the dangers?

It's important to limit the risks that staff can face when working outside in the sun. Otherwise you could face a series of long term absences from illness and injuries. This can result in low productivity, missed deadlines and higher levels of employee turnover. That's why it's important to create and manage a sun safety process.

Let's explore some tips on how to support staff and keep employees safe.

Keep covered

It can be tempting for workers to remove excess articles of clothing to try and beat the heat. However, extra layers of protective clothing are a great way to avoid excessive exposure and block UV rays.

If heat is an issue, and extra clothing poses a greater risk, then provide staff with plenty of sun cream. This should be reapplied every two hours to ensure its effectiveness.

Stay hydrated

Dehydration can be very dangerous for employees. Especially if their role involves vigorous movement or exercise.

To avoid dehydration, make sure that all employees have access to cold water to keep them cool and hydrated throughout their shifts. Scheduling frequent rest breaks can also help improve their wellbeing by avoiding overexertion.

Reschedule work

When working outdoors it can be hard to avoid direct sunlight. If you're not able to provide shade then reschedule your working hours to cooler times or cloudy days.

Checking the UV index each day can help ensure that you have adequate protective measures in place. If the index is very high on certain days then you know that your staff will need to take particular care.

Check skin regularly

Employees should check their skin regularly for any new unusual moles or spots. Moles or freckles that seem to be changing in size, shape or colour could be an early indication of skin cancer.

There are many online services that can help with keeping track of skin changes or abnormalities. These can often be downloaded directly to an employee's devices.

These can provide an extra level of security. However anyone with these symptoms should visit relevant occupational health services immediately.

Get help from Peninsula on working in the sun

There is a strong link between sun exposure and serious health issues. It's up to you as a business owner to mitigate these risks and protect your employees while they're on the job.

Employee welfare should be one of your top priorities. Whether it's providing educational materials, sunscreen or offering a break room where staff can rest and replenish.

Peninsula offers 24/7 HR advice which is available 365 days a year. Want to find out more? Contact us on 0800 051 3683 and book a free consultation with one of our HR consultants.

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