Let’s talk about the sun. It’s hot, it’s bright… and it can be dangerous for construction workers who’re 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. Additionally, 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.
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
2. Squamous cell carcinoma – Common type of skin cancer and tends to remain localized
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
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.
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 are 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 a 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’s what we recommend:
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 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:
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:
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:
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.
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:
Talk to a solution specialist regarding your specific needs – contact us at 1-877-MY ARMOR.