Summer is the most popular season for construction work since the weather is mostly pleasant and predictable. Still, when spending many hours outside for summer construction work, it's important to be mindful of the heat. Here are some construction safety tips to help protect you and your workers from sunburns, exhaustion and heatstroke.
Fluids — especially water — are the best defense against the heat. Make sure all of your workers have a bottle of water nearby and have a cooler available for refill.
For alternatives to plain water, squeeze a lemon slice into your bottle or opt for sports drinks that will replenish the electrolytes you lose when sweating. Avoid sodas, energy drinks and anything with caffeine, as these have minimal hydration benefits.
High-fat, greasy meals — like burgers and fries — weigh you down, and your body uses more energy in digesting them. Choosing a light and filling meal — like a sandwich, salad and fruit — curbs hunger and helps you stay alert.
One of the best ways to prevent sun damage is to cover your skin with clothing. Different materials, colors and weave patterns offer various levels of coverage. Typically, pants and long-sleeved shirts made from closely knit materials in dark colors provide the most UV protection. Contrary to conventional wisdom, pale fabrics are not ideal for reflecting UV rays.
Some clothing is treated with special dyes or chemicals to block UV radiation. These clothes are usually lightweight and often have a UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) label.
Wide-brimmed hats also help keep the sun off your face, ears and neck. If you wear a hard hat for most of your workday, you can use accessories under or over it for additional skin coverage.
The sun can also damage your eyes. Keep them safe by wearing comfortably fitted sunglasses or safety glasses that offer UVA and UVB protection.
Sleep gives your body time to heal and energize for the next day, allowing you to handle the heat better. Aim for at least eight hours every night to make sure you get enough REM sleep. It may help to make your bedroom dark and cool, using curtains and fans if necessary.
The morning and evening are the coolest times of the day and offer an ideal opportunity to do intense outdoor work. The hot afternoon — from about noon to 3 p.m. — is best for indoor work or a lunch break.
If possible, find a shady or indoor spot for periodic cover from the sun. Taking shade respites between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. is essential, as the sun's UV radiation is strongest during this period.
Giving yourself a break helps you keep cool, stay well-rested and avoid overheating. If there is no natural shade around your job site, provide some for your workers with umbrellas or an awning. To get the most out of your break, stay outside rather than retreating to the air conditioning — it will be easier to get used to the heat since your body won't experience radical temperature changes.
As you are working, be mindful of how you feel and observe your workers' behavior. Symptoms of heatstroke include:
Bring affected workers into the shade to rehydrate and call 911 if necessary. Train your employees on heat safety so they know what to look for in themselves and others.
Sunscreen is another vital form of skin protection for construction workers. Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen with UVA and UVB protection and a high SPF (sun protection factor).
The higher the SPF, the better the protection. For example, a sunscreen with SPF 30 provides protection that lasts 30 times longer than unprotected skin. If your unprotected skin starts to burn after 10 minutes, using sunscreen with SPF 30 will protect you for approximately 300 minutes. SPF also determines how much UVB is blocked. Sunscreen with SPF 30 blocks 97% of UVB rays.
To prevent your sunscreen from coming off when you sweat, choose a water-resistant product. Keep in mind that sunscreen also needs time to absorb into your skin, so you should allow at least 20 minutes after application before going outdoors. As a rule of thumb, reapply your sunscreen every two hours or more frequently on days with a high UV index.
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