Sun Safety at Work and Working in Hot Environments
It’s that time of year again, the sun is shining, and everyone is out and about enjoying the beautiful weather. Lots of road work and outdoor jobs are in full swing now. This means it’s time to protect the most valuable asset that you have: your workers. Many companies in the construction industry, horticulture and agriculture industries are susceptible to worker hazards and issues due to the sun and the ultraviolet rays. Failure to protect yourself will lead to time off due to illness. A proper Sun Safety at work policy and monitoring the effectiveness of the policy will help prevent unnecessary illnesses or lost time.
Why is Sun Safety Important?
Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is responsible for sun burn and other adverse health effects. There are two types of harmful rays, UVA and UVB. These rays are the primary cause of sunburns, heat disorders and skin cancer and these rays suppress the immune system. Most workers who work outside complete their work when UV rays are at their highest peak which is between 10 am and 4 pm. The easiest way to determine if you are in the peak period is looking at your shadow. If your shadow is shorter than you are, you are in the peak period. This puts workers at significant risk of illness and injury.
Components of a Sun Safety at Work Policy
What does a sun safety policy and program consist of? How is it developed? A sun safety policy should include risk factors, symptoms and issues, how to protect yourself and responsibilities.
Risk factors related to potential injury and illness due to exposure to the sun include overweight individuals, having poor physical conditioning, age, diabetes and heart disease or high blood pressure and medications, previous heat or other illnesses.
Symptoms and Issues
- Sunburns – red, painful blistering or peeling of the skin and are caused by exposure to the sun.
- Dehydration – loss of water and electrolytes from the body
- Skin Cancer – people working outdoors are highly likely to contract skin cancer due to long term exposure to UV rays. Regular checks of your skin for abnormal moles or areas that do not look normal will help catch any issues such as melanoma or tumours.
- Heat Rash – Red Blotchy skin and extreme itchiness in areas persistently damp with sweat.
- Heat Cramps – Caused by sweating heavily and replacing water but not salt in your body which will lead to painful cramps of leg, arm or abdominal muscles or hot moist skin.
- Heat Exhaustion – Caused by a loss of body fluids and minerals which will cause headaches, thirst, heavy sweating, nausea, dizziness, fatigue, restlessness, impaired judgment, loss of appetite, weak and rapid pulse, cool moist skin, low to normal blood pressure and blurred vision.
- Heat Stress – the combination of heat that the worker Is exposed to, the metabolic demands of the individual, environmental factors and clothing requirements.
- Heat Stroke – the worst condition, heat stroke occurs when the body’s ability to cool itself has become overwhelmed and has lost its major defences against hyperthermia. Symptoms include elevated body temperature of 40.5 degrees Celsius, hot, dry skin, dizziness, confusion, rapid breathing, weak pulse or confusion.
Treatments for all symptoms are to remove the affected individual from the heat and into a cool place, use cold compresses, removing or loosening clothing, drinking fluids and seeking medical attention. Failure to treat these symptoms will lead to complications including permanent organ and tissue damage and even unconsciousness, coma or death.
Managers and supervisor must ensure employees who are in hot environments take necessary precautions including drinking enough water. Managers and supervisors must also implement a written sun safety policy and ensure employees are following the guidelines of the policy, monitor the signs and symptoms of heat disorders in employees as well as when hot conditions arise, determine a proper work/rest regimen and adjust work practices when employees compliant of heat stress and arrange for first aid training for workers.
Workers must follow instructions and training for controlling heat stress, be alert to symptoms in yourself and others, get adequate ret and sleep, drink lots of water and fluids regularly and do not work if they are under the influence of alcohol and drugs or intake excessive caffeine.
Workers must also ensure any medication they must take will not increase heat stress.
Sun Safety Tips for Workers: How to Protect Yourself
Always wear sunglasses when in the sun for prolonged periods of time. Ensure they block 95- 100 percent of all UV Light. Spend the money on proper glasses if you are working outside, the fancy sunglasses that make you look cool will not protect you over the long term.
Sunscreen works by absorbing the ultraviolet light to prevent penetration through the skin. All sunscreens have an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) and is a multiplier of the exposure time in the sun. If you are able to stay in the sun for 10 minutes, applying sunscreen with an SPF 10 multiplies that time by 10. Sun block will scatter and reflect as well as physically block UV radiation through zinc oxide.
You must apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a minimum of SPF 30, regardless of sunny and cloudy days. Ensure your skin is dry and liberally apply the sunscreen 15-30 minutes prior to going outdoors and reapplied every 2 hours and ensure that you apply it to your face, ears, hands, behind the knee, back of your neck, your feet and your arms.
Most clothing absorbs or reflects UV rays. Wear clothing that has a tight weave as it’s the best fit for protecting your skin from the sun. Some would say to wear light colours or white however wet clothes or loose knit cotton only offer SPF of 3 – 9. Always ensure the clothing covers all parts of the skin and hats are always worn while working outside.
Food and Drinks
Drink small amounts of water frequently throughout the day to keep hydrated. Drinking large amounts of water infrequently is not as effective in keeping hydrated. Drinking liquids with electrolytes in them will also assist (Gatorade) with regaining the electrolytes lost. Avoid drinks such as alcohol or beverages with caffeine as they make the body lose water and increase the risk of heat illness. Avoid eating large meals before working in hot environments. Do not use any drugs while working as they will hinder the ability to recognize the symptoms.
Work and Breaks
Ensure you get proper rest each night and during the day. Avoid the heaviest work during the peak periods and use any mechanical aids wherever possible to reduce the amount of physical labour and effort needed. Rotate the tasks to ensure that employees are not reaching the point of exhaustion.
Take regular rest breaks in shaded areas and inside if available. If possible, set up areas that are designated for breaks that have cool air and water. Set up a Work/Rest schedule and plan which involves setting up times for work and rest to help reduce exposure to the heat. Use the current heat guidelines for percentage of work each hour compared to rest. This can be found at CCOHS through their OHS Fact Sheets or through the ACGIH Threshold Limit Values. In many cases humidity also plays a factor in this and must be considered when creating these schedules.
Continuously monitor the conditions and adjust the plans set in place if there are changes that arise. Keep track and stock of the items to protect workers. Ensure workers follow the guidelines and policies in place and take corrective actions when they are not followed. Sun Safety at work is crucial to worksite health and safety. For more information, contact Heartzap.