Protect construction workers from the sun [Updated for 2023]

Protect construction workers from the sun [Updated for 2023] header image

The sun is hot, bright… and can be dangerous for construction workers laboring under its blazing glare and UV rays all day.

Those same UV rays that we crave during the spring and summer months are actually when they are the strongest – and during peak construction time, too – giving off the greatest UV radiation from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm.

Even on cloudy days, up to 80% of the sun’s UV rays can pass through clouds. Plus, working in the sun makes you sweat, upping your skin’s photosensitivity and the potential for damage.

Here’s why those UV rays can be so dangerous: time in the sun can lead to an increased risk of sunburn, sun poisoning, and worse, skin cancer.

With construction typically ramping up and in full swing during warmer weather, getting your PPE and precautions under control is imperative to help mitigate heat illness or injury on the job site.

Skin cancer is more common than you think

In fact, skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the U.S. with more people being diagnosed each year than all other cancers combined.

The main culprits that cause skin cancer are two forms of ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun that penetrate the earth’s atmosphere: UVA and UVB. Though both can cause skin cancer, UVB rays are thought to be the primary cause of most skin cancers, and exposure can happen year-round.

There are three main types of skin cancer:

1. Basal cell carcinoma – Common type of skin cancer and tends to remain localized. About 8 out of 10 skin cancers are basal cell carcinomas.

2. Squamous cell carcinoma – Common type of skin cancer and tends to remain localized. About 2 out of 10 skin cancers are squamous cell carcinomas

3. Melanoma – Not as common but is the deadliest and most aggressive form of skin cancer that can spread rapidly to other parts of the body, proving fatal if not treated early enough; accounts for less than 1% of all skin cancers.

The good news is that there are several ways to protect construction workers when working outdoors to limit their exposure to the sun and UV radiation.

Stop the sun on its way to your skin

Wear proper clothing gloves

Construction worker wearing HexArmor PPE.The number one way to protect yourself or others from UV rays is by covering the skin as much as possible, such as with clothing – but not all clothing offers the same level of protection.

Material, weave, and color can affect the amount of UV radiation a material is able to block. For example, a white cotton T-shirt has an SPF of about seven but drops to about three when wet.

The best UV protection comes from long-sleeved shirts and pants made from closely-knit materials in darker colors.

Another good option is clothes treated with sun protection chemicals or special dyes to block out UV light. These select clothing types offer great protection and are typically made of lightweight fabrics, giving you an SPF of 50 or higher which only allows 1/50th of the sun’s UV radiation to reach your skin.

Gloves are a must-have on the construction site. Not only do they provide you with protection from the sun, but you’ll get protection from cuts, punctures, and abrasions at the same time – which is the main reason you should be wearing gloves on site.

Here are the gloves we recommend:

  • Chrome Oasis® 4030 – Advanced HexVent® technology for a breathable heat release system
  • Chrome SLT® line 4070, 4071, 4072 – All lined with HPPE, these gloves cover multiple applications, all while keeping hands cooler, longer when under the sun
  • Rig Lizard® Thin Lizzie™ 2090X – Knit includes HPPE shell to keep hands cool, while sandy nitrile palm and back-of-hand impact offers superior protective qualities
  • Helix® 2076 – Knit includes HPPE to keep hands cool; palm coating has touchscreen capabilities

Use head protection

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. That is good news for the skin around the head and neck, as these areas can be the most difficult to protect due to body movement and lack of or insufficient coverage.

Most, if not all, construction sites require the donning of a safety helmet while on the job. If that’s the case, there are different brim lengths to choose from as well as several available accessories that can be fitted over or under the hard hat to provide a wider brim for the 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.

Here's what we recommend:

Wear safety eyewear

Construction worker wearing safety helmet shade and UV blocking safety glasses.UV light is also very damaging to your eyes. Tinted or clear 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 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 380nm, leaving a 20nm range unprotected.

Here's what we recommend for 400nm of protection from UV light:

  • X1– Lightweight, low-profile frame keeps pace with your active life both at work and at play, offers 100% UV protection in multiple tints
  • VS250 – Lightweight with a soft, non-slip nose piece and side arms, offers 100% UV protection available in multiple tints
  • MX250 – Lightweight and durable with adaptive soft-grip side arms, offers 100% UV protection available in multiple tints
  • MX300 – Lightweight with soft-grip technology and additional brow guard, get 100% UV protection available in multiple tints

Use sunscreen… and then use more sunscreen

Wearing sunscreen is a vital part of protecting construction workers from UV rays. Select a broad-spectrum sunscreen that offers protection from both UVB and UVA radiation with a high SPF, which measures the amount of protection from UVB radiation. Don’t forget about your face, neck, ears, hands, and lips.

Here’s what to pay attention to:

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 UVB rays, while SPF 30 blocks 97%.

Water-resistant – Construction is a sweaty job – 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 – Remember, sunscreen needs time to absorb into your skin. Leave room for at least 20 minutes after application to exposed areas before going outdoors. The standard rule of thumb is to reapply every two hours and more frequently on days with a high UV index. Be sure to check the manufacturer’s application recommendations to adequately protect your skin.

Make shade where possible

This can be difficult depending on the site, but building temporary shade or having indoor areas available can be an efficient way to protect construction workers from sun exposure. Think about break times and meals at the very least, but meetings, preparing tools, mixing materials, etc. could be conducted under a roof, tent, or shady area.

Get the extra sun protection you need with HexArmor®

Sun exposure can often be overlooked due to the more fatal or ‘seen’ hazards found on construction sites, but you can keep awareness of UV radiation dangers high among your construction workers by providing training or pre-work meetings on the above information. It can go a long way in preventing both painful sunburns and the potential for skin cancer.

Below are some additional learning resources we have available when it comes to your safety PPE needs in the sun:

Let us know if you need help or if you're ready to start a trial - our Solution Specialists are ready to work with you. Call 1.877.MY ARMOR or send us a message.

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