Your questions answered: How should we decide on the best protective clothing for outdoor workers?

By Portner Press on October 24th, 2019
  1. Risk Management
  2. Workplace Safety

Q
Our business employs maintenance people to take care of the grounds and we are currently reviewing the protective work wear for these workers. While we would prefer that when working outdoors they wear long-sleeved shirts to protect themselves from the sun, some workers would prefer to wear short-sleeved shirts to remain cooler in the hot weather. Our concern is that this exposes them to the sun’s harm. We do provide sunscreen that some workers use and some do not.

If workers do not wear long sleeves or sunscreen, can we protect ourselves from future claims related to skin cancer by having these employees sign a deed of release or similar document stating that they have been given the option to wear long-sleeved protective clothing but have opted not to, thereby putting themselves at risk by exposing their skin to the sun?

A
Under health and safety legislation in all jurisdictions, employers must take reasonably practicable steps to eliminate, or at least minimise, health and safety risks to all workers. Notably, the legislation prohibits employers from ‘contracting out’ of these obligations (such as through a deed of release).

Consequently, as a deed of release or similar document would not be an option, here is some general information and recommendations as to steps that you could take to reduce the risk of heat stroke or exposure to solar UVR.

Workers who spend a significant part of their day in the sun are exposed to the risk of sunburn and also solar UVR, which is a known contributor to skin cancer. This imposes an obligation on employers to ensure that their workers are protected from these risks through appropriate sun protection, e.g. hats, clothing and sunscreen.

However, employers must also ensure that the provision of sun protection does not pose additional risks to workers. This could, for example, occur where the provision of heavy clothing, intended to provide protection from the sun, results in a worker overheating and developing heatstroke.

To reduce the risk of heat stroke – and also the risk of exposure to solar UVR – consider the following steps:

  • eliminate the risk of exposure by moving the work indoors if practicable – we realise this is not possible for the type of work you have described;
  • substitute or isolate the risk by moving the work to be performed at a time of day when there is no or little solar UVR exposure;
  • engineer a control method such as building a sunshade;
  • implement administrative controls such as rotating workers on the job to minimise exposure times; and
  • implement a policy that workers wear sunscreen and other protective measures (such as hats) when working in the sun.

Need more information on how to protect your workers and your business?

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