Sun Protection On the Jobsite
To most people, summer time means fun in the sun. Those who work in it for hours on end, however, might describe the sunshine a little differently: Brutal. Broiling. Blistering. According to the National Weather Service, extreme heat kills more people than hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, and lightning combined.
Construction and flat workers, road crews, HVAC installers, roofers, landscapers … you name it. Their jobs put them right in the heart of sun-drenched job sites usually with little to no natural shade available.
Other factors of heat stress
In addition to the environmental heat, your workers face other, more personal factors that affect the speed and intensity of the heat-related illnesses that can occur:
- Activity level. This is a big one. The more active the person, the more heat and sweat is generated. It is important to know that when workers stop to rest, the rate of heat production drops dramatically but the removal of the heat already produced may take quite a while.
- Age. Older workers have a decreased maximum possible heart rate, which limits their ability to transfer heat to the skin. They also have a reduced ability to produce sweat: They start sweating later and sweat at a lower rate.
- BMI. A heavier layer of fat tissue insulates the core, which increases sweat production and can lead to faster dehydration. Also, heavier workers tend to have a lower skin area-to-weight ratio, which puts them at greater risk.
- Hydration. Not being properly hydrated at the start of working and not consuming enough water and salt while working will accelerate dehydration and lead to heat stress symptoms.
Know how to slow the sun’s effects.
While it’s still early in the summer, before peak really hits, start training your crews in the proper heat-health routine. There are just a few basic things everyone can do that will make their days safer and more tolerable.
In addition, familiarize yourself with the slew of specialized products made to mitigate the sun’s heat, including hydration, protective clothing, polarized eyewear, sunscreen and heat stress management solutions, and portable shade canopies.
Putting a Plan in place.
The key to creating a safe summer work environment outdoors is by providing hydration, rest and shade. Remember, OSHA requires generally safe workplaces. But before you rush in, take a step back and develop an organized response plan that increases the chance of success. It’s not necessarily difficult to stop the sun from doing a number on your people. You simply have to make it happen.
Fill your crews in on managing heat BEFORE temperatures start rising. Your particular program might include:
- Making sure your workers know what causes heat and sun injuries on the jobsite, and how they can reduce the risk -- specifically “Hydration-Rest-Shade”.
- Explaining how wearing the right clothing and PPE can reduce heat load while still allowing them to do their jobs.
- Counseling them to avoid drugs and alcohol off-the-job during heat waves, as they can contribute to heat illnesses.
- Teaching them how to recognize the signs of heat-related illnesses in both themselves and others, and reporting them immediately. Symptoms of heat exhaustion will include weakness, heavy sweating, sudden headaches, dizziness, fainting; nausea or vomiting. For heat stroke, sufferers will seem confused, may faint; will have hot, dry skin with no sweat and seizures.
At the start of hot weather, the body isn’t physically ready to manage the strain. Allowing your work crews to acclimatize to the heat, becoming accustomed to it, is essential. By gradually introducing their bodies to the increased stress of working on a hot jobsite, the body adapts and learns how to function safely. They’ll become better at sweating, which in turn allows their evaporative cooling capabilities to work more efficiently.
- Take 1-2 weeks to slowly increase time in hot conditions.
- Closely supervise new employees until they’ve become used to exertion in the heat.
- If a worker is out of shape, they’ll require more acclimatizing time.
Employers should provide the means for appropriate hydration of workers.
- Keep ample supplies of cold water in portable coolers accessible near the work area.
- Encourage workers to drink about 8 ounces (1 cup) of water every 15–20 minutes, not to exceed 6 cups per hour.
- During prolonged time spent in the sun, provide sports drinks containing balanced electrolytes to counteract loss through sweating.
- Discourage the use of alcohol, caffeine and drinks with lots of sugar.
- Provide cups or personal water bottles to encourage ongoing hydration.
Employers should ensure and encourage workers to take appropriate rest breaks to cool down and hydrate.
- Schedule regular rest periods for your crews, and provide rest and water breaks when the worker feels heat discomfort.
- Modify work/rest periods to give the body a chance to get rid of excess heat.
- Assign new and unacclimatized workers lighter work and longer, more frequent rest periods.
- Shorten work periods and increase rest periods:
Blocking the Sun: Protective Equipment
Teaching workers how best to beat the heat is important. But just as important is having access to the equipment that supports their efforts. Today’s job sites and outdoor workers can benefit from a range of jobsite and Personal Protective Equipment made to protect them from the beating sun. How can your workers benefit?
Erecting temporary shady spots is a good way to protect construction workers from sun exposure. Equipment such as portable canopies help to limit exposure to UV radiation during the strongest parts of the day, 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. At the very least, employers should have a tent or other shady area made available for workers to use during breaks and meals.
You can find clothing labeled with ultraviolet protection factor (UPF). These items are typically made of lightweight fabrics and treated with sun protection chemicals or special dyes to block out UV light. For the best protection, select clothes with a UPF of 50 or higher, which only allows 1/50th of the sun’s UV radiation to reach your skin. As a comparison, a thin white cotton T-shirt has a UPF around 5.
Cooling vests are equipped with pockets that hold ice packs, making full-torso cooling possible for periods of time. Gloves provide protection from not just cuts, punctures, and abrasions, but also UV rays.
The main job of head protection is to protect your head against injury, but it will also provide protection from the sun at the same time. Hats in general really do help to protect face, ears, and neck from the sun.
Special wide-brimmed hats, headbands and sweatbands are made to accelerate evaporative cooling, aiding in keeping core body temperatures down.
If your workers are required to wear a hard hat, several available accessories are produced that can be fitted over or under the hard hat to provide a wider brim for face, ears, and neck for protection from the sun. Other options are available to go under the safety helmet to both cool workers and provide protection.
Sunscreen is indispensable protection for those working outside. Broad-spectrum sunscreens are generally among the highest Sun Protection Factor (SPF) ratings, a measurement of the amount of UV protection offered. Here’s what to keep in mind:
- SPF 30. The longer an SPF works, the better. Sunscreen with an SPF 30 protects against UVB rays 30 times longer than unprotected skin before starting to turn red and determines how much UVB is blocked when worn. Sunscreen with SPF 15 blocks 93% of the UV rays, while SPF 30 blocks 97%.
- Water-resistant. Consider using a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Most are rated to last 40-80 minutes.
- Application time. Be sure to allow for at least 20 minutes after application before heading outdoors. Sunscreen takes time to absorb into your skin. A good rule of thumb is to reapply every two hours and more frequently on days with a high UV index. Also ensure you check the manufacturer’s application recommendations for additional instructions or recommendations.
UV light is also very damaging to your eyes. Polarized safety glasses that offer both UVB and UVA protection should be worn any time you are out in the sun. Be sure to choose a pair that fits comfortably and offers 100% UV protection.
The good news is that even clear polycarbonate, which is what most safety eyewear lenses are made of, will help to naturally filter out some of this UV light. However, polycarbonate only filters up to 380 nanometers (nm), still within the 10-400 nm UV wave spectrum. So that leaves a 20nm range unprotected.
Remember, proper planning, understanding and equipment can make the difference between a safe, productive summer, and one in which heat-related illnesses and injuries take a serious toll. Call your Imperial Supplies Dedicated Account Advisor and we’ll help provide the answers you need to stay out of the sun’s way.