Major risks affecting outdoor workers
A significant risk outdoor workers face is the development of skin cancer due to prolonged exposure to harmful Ultra Violet (UV) radiation. The construction and agriculture industries see the highest number of skin cancer cases globally due to the nature of work in these industries1.
The sun’s UV rays have the potential to damage the DNA in the skin cells, leading to the growth of abnormal cells and the formation of cancerous tumours. It is also subject to factors such as geographic location, time of year, and elevation, which can affect UV intensity and contribute to the development of skin cancer. In addition to the harmful rays, continued to scorching temperatures can cause heat exhaustion and, in severe cases, lead to heat strokes.
With construction and transportation industries often the playground for loud noises and machinery, regular exposure can result in irreversible hearing loss, one of the most significant underlying causes of tinnitus, a condition linked with depression and a high suicide risk factor3. Tinnitus is a condition characterised by the perception of sound in one or both ears or in the head, without any external source. It is often described as a ringing, buzzing, hissing, or whistling sound, although the specific sounds can vary from person to person, and can be continuous or intermittent and can vary in intensity.
Accidents and fatalities can occur due to the nature of the environment, especially in construction or utility management, where workers often deal with extreme heights. These pose different risks, including deadly falls from elevated structures. Falls from a height, collisions with moving objects, including flying or falling objects, and accidents with moving vehicles accounted for most fatal workplace accidents in the UK4 (2021-22).
Tackling outdoor workplace risks from all sides
Establishing effective risk management strategies in outdoor working environments involves contributions from each party – the employer, supervisor, worker, and regulatory body. Each of these participants' responsibilities collectively contributes to mitigating potential hazards.
- Employers should assess the risks posed by the nature of work and conduct a thorough hazard assessment of the work environment, identify potential risks specific to the nature of the work, and ensure the quality and provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) and safety gear.
Employers should also establish and enforce safety procedures for the outdoor workspace and provide comprehensive training and education on potential risks and safety training, including running emergency protocols and recognising signs of exhaustion.
- Supervisors should establish safety policies and procedures and effectively communicate with the workforce about safe work practices and emergency procedures, monitor the workers’ adherence to safety procedures, and intervene and enforce best practices if not followed.
Supervisors should also maintain vigilance and investigate all incidents, accidents, and even ‘near-misses,’ following which they should document in detail each finding, identify root causes, and implement corrective actions to prevent a similar event.
- Workers should be aware of their environment and actively participate in safety training programmes, demonstrate competence in implementing safe work practices, and report minor incidents and unsafe practices. Workers should prioritise their physical and mental health by taking necessary breaks, regularly hydrating, wearing the correct PPE and alerting supervisors if they notice signs of heat stroke or exhaustion.
Knowledge of the effects of UV radiation is critical for outdoor workers. Controlling exposure to UV radiation can prevent 90% of all skin cancer-related deaths6. Simple steps such as not taking one’s top off and adopting the usage of sunscreens to safeguard against UV radiation go a long way. The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) guidelines state that UV radiation should be considered an occupational hazard for outdoor workers. However, according to an April 2023 YouGov survey commissioned by SC Johnson Professional, 30% of outdoor workers never apply UV protection cream while working5.
- Regulatory bodies must develop and enforce standards and ensure workplaces align with the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 19747, and if the employed practices do not abide by the safety guidelines, serve an improvement or prohibition notice concerning the degree of non-compliance. Even though there are increasing number of injuries at work, prohibition and improvement notices have become fewer. The number of prohibition and improvement notices dropped by 61% and 54%, respectively, from 2017-18 to 2020-21*.
Injuries, health issues, and accidents that occur in outdoor workspaces can have grave repercussions on businesses in the form of litigation, regulatory sanctions and penalties, and increased labour costs, all of which eventually result in higher insurance premiums. Therefore, employers should prioritise identifying, analysing, and managing risks to establish high standards of workplace safety for the well-being of outdoor workers, as incidents could come at a heavy price for both the employer and the employee.
Gallagher can help enhance safety and secure outdoor work environments for your organisation with our comprehensive risk management solutions. To speak with a member of our friendly risk management team about any of the content in this article, or any risk management requirements you may have, please call 0800 138 7538.