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Protecting Workers from Solar Radiation and Silica Dust

The health and safety of workers can be put at risk in many different ways, but two common, and preventable, sources of harm at work are solar radiation and silica dust.

Solar Radiation

The danger solar radiation exposure can cause to workers was recently highlighted in an awareness campaign, Sun Awareness Week, which took place from 8th to 14th of May.

It was organised by the British Association of Dermatologists, which is a supporter of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health’s (IOSH) No Time to Lose campaign.

"Skin cancer is now the most common form of cancer in the UK and incidence rates are still rising, with outdoor workers being particularly at high risk,” explained Johnathon Major of the British Association of Dermatologists.

“A concerted effort must be made to make both employers and employees aware of the dangers posed by sun exposure, and to encourage the adoption of responsible preventative measures,” he added. "No Time to Lose aims to do exactly that, and we applaud IOSH’s efforts in making the workplace a sun-safe environment.”

Construction Workers Particularly at Risk

In 2015, research commissioned by IOSH into solar radiation exposure at work in Britain revealed that each year, malignant melanoma, which is the more serious form of skin cancer, kills nearly 50 people, with 240 new cancer cases being registered.

The study was done by Imperial College London, which also found that 42% of malignant melanoma cancer cases involve construction workers. Other key sectors include agriculture, public administration and defence, and land transport.

A second study by The University of Nottingham researched attitudes to sun safety in the construction sector and found that two thirds of construction workers outside for an average of nearly seven hours a day thought they were not at risk or were unsure if they were.

More than half (59%) of those questioned by researchers reported having sunburn – a major contributor to skin cancer – at least once in the last year.

RCS is a Major Cause of Lung Cancer

Respirable crystalline silica (RCS) is another common threat at work, particularly in industries that work with rocks, sand and clay, and products such as bricks and concrete. It is possible to prevent exposure to this dangerous substance through the use of simple control measures, however exposure to RCS continues to be responsible for 800 lung cancer deaths a year in Britain alone.

As part of IOSH’s No Time to Lose campaign, a 12-month plan of action was agreed in November last year to tackle the threat of RCS, with partners pledging to raise awareness of, and take preventative action against, work-related exposures to RCS.

“It is unacceptable that people are being exposed to the harmful effects of silica dust in workplaces,” said Shelley Frost, Executive Director of Policy at IOSH. “The organisations which agreed the commitment are helping to raise awareness of the issue and the simple measures that can be put in place to ensure that people can go to work without being exposed to the risks.”

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