A burning issue
07 March 2013
According to Cancer Research, outdoor workers such as window cleaners receive on average 3 to 4 times more UV exposure each year than people who work indoors. Louise Carter explores some of the risks associated with working in the sun and looks at how workers can be protected
Exposure to UV radiation from the sun can damage the eyes and cause skin damage including sunburn, blistering skin, ageing and in the long term, can lead to skin cancer.With over 100.000 new cases diagnosed each year, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the UK.
Window cleaners are at risk due to the fact that the job requires working outside throughout the year.Although weaker winter sun can be less harmful, it may still cause damage over long periods. Even on overcast skies, 30-40% of UV will still penetrate through cloud cover.
For anyone employing or managing window cleaners there is an obligation to control these risks. According to the HSE,â€œUV radiation should be considered an occupational hazard for people who work outdoors and, as such, the normal legal requirements apply.â€œ
When deciding how best to protect window cleaners there are some issues which are particular to their working environment which should be taken into account. For example Cancer Research highlights that window cleaners often end up with wet shirts but warns wet cotton shirts may only offer half the protection of dry ones as they stretch and allow more rays through to the skin.However shirts made from materials with a closer weave will block out most of the harmful rays even when wet.
In the summer season, it may also be very tempting for window cleaners to lose the shirt altogether, not only to achieve the coveted tan, but to cool off on a hot afternoon. For any exposed skin, sunscreen of at least SPF15 is advised but it must be remembered that the effectiveness of the sunscreen depends on its correct use.Too much can reduce sweating and cause heat stress while too little will not provide adequate protection. According to skin cancer protection charity SKCIN, 35ml of sunscreen is sufficient for one full body application for an average adult.
A wide-brimmed hat is also recommended as skin cancer can develop on the ear tips which baseball caps don't tend to cover.
Cancer Research advises ideally working in the shade between the hours of 11am and 3pm. However, often this is not practical so extra attention to providing adequate protection during these times is recommended.
Aside from protecting the skin from sun damage,window cleaners must be aware of the need to protect their eyes.The glare from glass and concrete can be particularly damaging to eyes as light can enter from all angles, and not only in the direction in which the eye is looking. Specsavers director of professional services, Paul Carroll , explains, â€œWindow cleaners will often be unable to avoid prolonged working in direct sunlight, so should take all precautions they can, including wearing good eye protection.
â€œPolarised lenses reduce this by using a layer of iodine crystals to absorb the glare. Non-polarised sunglasses have minimal effect, even though they will reduce visible light.â€ Choosing a pair of glasses with dark lenses will not necessarily offer any protection either, in fact, they will more than likely encourage the pupils to dilate in order to allow more light in.
Specsavers has a few tips for protecting eyes this summer:
â€¢ Check sunglasses comply with BSEN 1836: 1997 or bear the CE kite mark and are marked UV 400.
â€¢ If you already have sunglasses, take them into your local optician to be UV tested.
â€¢ Invest in photochromic lenses that instantly adapt to light changes.
Alternatively, get prescription lenses tinted to minimise the amount of UV rays that reach your eyes.
Not all doom and gloom
However harmful the sun's rays may be, there is a brighter side to the story.
A vitamin that has many benefits including maintaining healthy bones, boosting serotonin levels (the happy chemical) and regulating the immune system, is produced from sunlight. Vitamin D is formed under the skin in reaction to sunlight.The sun is said to be the best source of the vitamin and is also said to account for up to 90% of the body's supply.
So provided a few sensible precautions are adhered to window cleaners should be able to work healthily and happily in the sun. Further information: