Protecting your most valued asset during the heatwave

Human Resources 6th August 2018

“Install air-conditioning.  Let them wear loose, casual clothing.  Give them copious amounts of bottled water.”

There’s no shortage of advice for employers on how to look after office, retail or warehouse workers when the weather is this hot.  Much of this advice is pretty obvious stuff.

However, the best employers consider all their workers in all environments.  Not everyone works indoors.  How about the poor souls whose employment demands that they spend hours on end outside?  An environment where, if my research serves me right, air-conditioning systems are neither easy to install nor especially effective.  An environment in which your workers are exposed to one of the planet’s biggest killers.  Every summer, millions of outdoor workers face the risk of skin cancer, heat stress and dehydration.

Don’t forget either – the increased risk of accidents caused by lack of concentration or tiredness, brought on by the summer heat.

Protect and motivate

So, what about those who work outside?  What are your responsibilities as an employer?  What can you reasonably be expected to do to protect and motivate your most precious asset when climate conditions are so severe?  Let’s begin with a few disturbing stats –

According to Cancer Research UK –

– there were around 15,400 new melanoma skin cancer cases in the UK every year between 2013-15.

– Melanoma is the fifth most common cancer in the UK, accounting for 4% of all cases.

– (and here’s where you, the employer, comes in) More than eight in 10 melanoma skin cancer cases are preventable.

Then we have equally devastating information from Soleve Sunburn Relief.  They surveyed 2,000 people in the UK and found that –

 30% don’t wear any kind of sunscreen

– 23% believe that the sun isn’t “strong enough” in the UK to do any damage.

– 43% suffered from sunburn at least once last summer

– 31% experienced it at least two times.

An alarmingly high number of people regard sunburn as a badge of honour.  They seem oblivious to the serious potential health repercussions such as skin cancer and sun stroke.

Who are these workers who can be vulnerable to excessive climate conditions when working outside?

It’s more than just agricultural and construction workers.  Millions of other workers spend most of their time outdoors.  How about postal workers, street cleaners and parking control officers?

What should you, a responsible employer, be doing?

1. Not many employers even mention heat/sun exposure in their risk assessment.  This should be a priority.  Include in your assessment the dangers of skin cancer, heat stress, sunstroke, heat stroke and dehydration.  And if there is any risk, you must act.  You can’t affect when the sun will shine but you can minimise your workers’ exposure to it.

2. For outdoor workers, try varying your working practices.  It’s not easy, but you may be able to arrange for less outside work to be done at the hottest time of the day.  Often it is possible to organise work in summer so that the tasks that require the employees to be outside can be done either in the mornings or late afternoon, or on cloudy days.  Perhaps you could provide protective canopies or sheeting on building sites.  Certainly, try and arrange shaded areas for breaks.

3. If work must be carried out in the full glare of the sun, provide your workers with plenty of cool water and sunscreen.

4. You should issue lightweight long-sleeved protective clothing.  Properly designed, this will allow heat to escape.  If safety helmets aren’t needed, you could supply lightweight brimmed hats.

Don’t be one of those employers that falls back on the excuse that your workers should take their own precautions.  Provision of fresh water and free protective equipment is your employees’ legal right and as an employer, key health and safety advice should include encouraging them to wear sunscreen.

Of course, by taking these measures, you’ll be doing more than simply protecting your most valued asset from the ravages of the summer sun.  Many companies ignore these fundamentals of employee care.  By offering your workers the protection that is theirs by right, you will be clearly demonstrating that you care about them and their welfare – that you value them as individuals.  You will earn their respect and their gratitude.  In the long run, those qualities are priceless.

Motivate your people to be the best they can be.

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