Northern Ireland is no stranger to wet weather conditions, so you may consider the dangers of working in hot weather to be low risk for NI workers but think back to the 2018 Summer heatwave.
This time last year, Northern Ireland experienced one of the hottest June’s since records began in 1910. Average daytime temperatures soared to almost 20◦C. The lack of rainfall saw water levels at Spelga Dam in the Mourne Mountains fall so low that they revealed an old bridge and road which ran through the area before the dam was built – a sight that hadn’t been seen for decades.
In the UK, death tolls increased by nearly 1,000 during the 2018 summer heatwave according to the Office of National Statistics. Those most vulnerable to illness in hot weather include older people, babies, young children and those with pre-existing health problems. However, outdoor workers are also at risk of short-term and long-term heat related illnesses arising from prolonged exposure to the sun.
“Skin cancer is the most common cancer in Northern Ireland. Around 3,330 people develop skin cancer each year, accounting for 28 per cent of all cancers diagnosed” (Health and Safety Executive Northern Ireland).
“Outdoor workers may experience up to 90 per cent more exposure to harmful solar radiation than indoor workers” (Cancer Research UK).
“Up to 50 UK workers a year die from malignant melanoma skin cancer” (IOSH)
Hot weather combined with strenuous outdoor work can cause body temperatures to rise to unsafe levels, and outdoor workers are increasingly vulnerable to heat-related illnesses such as heat stroke, heat exhaustion, dehydration and heat cramps. Common symptoms include dizziness, weakness, nausea, blurred vision, confusion and even loss of consciousness.
Employees should monitor their own well-being and that of their colleagues during hot weather conditions and immediately alert a supervisor about any concerns, seeking medical advice, when necessary.
Practical steps that can be taken by employers include advising employees to dress appropriately, drink plenty of water and take regular breaks to cool down. Wearing loose fitting, light-coloured clothing allows the skin to get air exposure. Putting on a hat, sunglasses and applying sun protection is also good advice.
The safety of employees at work is covered by the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. Employers could be liable in cases where, for example, an employee collapses whilst working in extreme heat, and in situations where an employee develops melanoma skin cancer from prolonged exposure to direct sunlight.
If you manage staff who spend a considerable amount of their working hours in the great outdoors, take steps to minimise risks to their health and safety. Aside from being best practice, it will also reduce the likelihood of a claim being made against the company. A responsible employer will:
From a legal perspective, adequate Employers Liability Insurance cover should be in place in the event of a claim being made against the employer.
If you need further advice on safe working in hot weather, our Risk Management Consultant, Callum Davidson is on hand to review your current arrangements and advise on any necessary changes required to your insurance policy.
Contact ABL Group on:
Telephone: 028 9099 3600