For most people, the summer months mean vacations at the beach, lounging by the pool, and spending more time in the sun. For construction workers, summer means long hours in the hot sun, but not for pleasure. All that exposure can lead to an increased risk of sunburn, sun poisoning, and skin cancer.
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the U.S with approximately 1 million people being diagnosed with a form of skin cancer each year. The three main types of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma, are primarily caused by ultraviolet (UV) radiation from exposure to the sun.
Melanoma is the least prevalent of the three, but it’s also the deadliest one. Melanoma is an aggressive form of skin cancer that can spread rapidly to other parts of the body and can be fatal if not treated early enough. UV rays are stronger during the spring and summer months. Construction workers need to take extra precautions to protect themselves when working outdoors to limit their exposure to the sun.
Construction worker’s clothing choices play an important role in protecting skin from UV rays. Not all clothing offers the same level of protection. Several factors such as material, weave, and color affect the amount of UV radiation a material blocks. Long-sleeved shirts and pants made from closely-knit materials, preferably in darker colors, offer the best UV protection.
There are actually clothing options that are labeled with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) that offer great protection and are made of lightweight fabrics that have been treated with sun protection chemicals or special dyes to block out UV light. Most have a rating of UPF 50 or higher, and offer the best protection. UPF = only 1/50th of the sun’s UV radiation can reach the skin. By comparison, a thin white cotton T-shirt has a UPF around 5. Wearing a wide-brimmed hat will protect your face, ears, and neck from the sun. There are even wide-brim accessories available that can be fitted over or under the worker’s hard hat to provide more neck and head protection from the sun.
Sunglasses or safety glasses that offer both UVB and UVA protection should be worn any time you are out in the sun. Choose 99 – 100% UV protection.
Add a tube of sunscreen to your construction belt accessories! Select a broad-spectrum sunscreen that offers protection from both UVB and UVA radiation. The Sun Protection Factor (SPF) is also important to consider when selecting the right sunscreen. The SPF measures the amount of protection from UVB radiation.
Sunscreen with an SPF 30 protects against UVB rays 30 times longer than unprotected skin before it turns red. So, if your unprotected skin starts to turn red after 10 minutes, skin covered with sunscreen with an SPF 30 would protect your skin for 300 minutes. Construction workers should also choose water-resistant sunscreen, rated to last 40 or preferably 80 minutes. Sunscreen should be applied to all parts of exposed skin at least 20 minutes before going outdoors. Remember to reapply at least every two hours. Reapply more frequently on days with a high UV index.
Lastly, employers should provide a tent or other shady area for workers to use during breaks and meals. The best idea would be to have a NYC Shanty on the job site as a safe place for construction workers to take a break from the summer sun!
Sun exposure is a job site hazard that often gets less attention by employers due to the more fatal hazards present on job sites. Make sure construction workers are staying hydrated, are aware of the dangers of UV radiation have been trained on the various forms of sun protection they should be using. All of this can go a long way in preventing painful sunburns and the potential for skin cancer in protecting construction workers.