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Summer’s Here: Tips for Ensuring Occupational Sun Safety 

occupational sun safety

Summer’s higher temperatures and bright sun are great if you’re swimming, but they can easily become an occupational hazard for those who work outdoors every day. If your employees spend a portion of their workdays outside, it’s essential to understand the risks — both short- and long-term — of sun exposure and the basics of occupational sun safety. 

Understanding the Risks of Sun Exposure to Your Crews 

The UV-A and UV-B rays emitted by the sun pose threats to your workers’ health, as does the general heat of a summer day. Some specific risks include: 

  • Sunburn 
  • Heat stroke 
  • Sun poisoning 
  • Sunburn of the eyes 
  • Skin cancer 
  • Pterygium, a growth of tissue in the eye 
  • Eyelid cancers 
  • Cataracts 
  • Macular degeneration 
  • Dehydration 

Even workers suffering from more minor sun-related conditions may need to take time off work. This reduces your workforce’s productivity rates and increases your costs, potentially putting your project’s success at risk. 

Taking precautionary measures to reduce your workers’ risks of sun- and heat-related illnesses keeps your projects on schedule while keeping workers safe. 

How to Implement Effective Sun Safety Measures 

As an employer, it is essential that you understand the breadth of risks facing your workers in the summer, and that you provide accommodations to help reduce the risk of sun overexposure. Here are a few things you can do to keep your workforce healthy all summer long. 

Adjust Schedules if Possible 

The sun (and the major risks associated with overexposure) is most intense from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with noon to 2 p.m. carrying the highest sun intensity. Whenever possible, adjust your team’s schedules to limit exposure during these peak hours. 

This may mean starting work at 6 a.m. and giving everyone a lunch break from noon to 2 p.m., then returning to finish up the day for a few hours in the afternoon. Or it may mean shifting outdoor duties to later in the afternoon. 

While this isn’t a solution for all crews, even breaking for a couple of hours midday or splitting the hours of highest sun intensity between segments of your crew so not everyone is out in the sun the whole time can help reduce the risk of too much sun. 

Offer Shade Options 

Giving workers a place to get some shade and cool off when they’re on their breaks or feeling as if they’ve been in the sun too long is crucial in keeping them safe.  

If you’re able to provide an indoor location for these breaks, that’s great. However, if you logistically cannot offer indoor shade, setting up a tent or canopy equipped with fans, water and cooling towels can give workers the relief they need on the hottest days. Including sunscreen and other sun-related PPE in this space allows workers to reapply or change out their gear for better protection. 

Provide Adequate Hydration 

In 2019, 43 workers in the United States died from heat illnesses, with another 2,410 suffering serious injuries and illnesses, according to the Department of Labor. However, these numbers are said to be underreported, so the actual number of workers affected could be much higher. 

Staying hydrated in the summer heat can be a challenge, especially for laborers who are physically active and exposed to the sun and heat.  

Provide cool water for workers to drink, refilling large containers as necessary. Also consider offering access to electrolyte drinks or tablets, as maintaining electrolyte balance in the heat is crucial to ensuring hydration. Encourage workers to bring their own water bottles to refill from larger containers to reduce waste and costs. 

Utilize Sun-Specific PPE 

Sunscreen is a must for all workers outdoors, no matter their natural skin tone. Provide broad spectrum sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher for workers who may forget theirs or who need a refill. Whenever possible, send out text message or verbal reminders to workers to reapply sunscreen at least every two hours (or sooner, if they’re perspiring heavily or getting wet). 

Encourage the use of other sun-specific personal protective equipment (PPE), such as wide-brimmed hats, UV-protective sunglasses, tight-weave or high-SPF clothing and long sleeves and pants when appropriate.  

Educating and Training Your Crew to Ensure Occupational Sun Safety 

Educating your workers about the potential dangers they face and training them how to respond is key to preventing occupational sun injuries. 

Before the weather gets too warm, hold a team meeting to go over some of the greater dangers of working outdoors in the summer. Include this information in your employee manual and send it out via email at least once a year. Discuss the resources available at the worksite, such as adjusted schedules, shade and hydration stations, but be sure to cover things your workers need to do on their own. 

Certain medications, including antibiotics, acne medicine, diabetes medications and cholesterol-lowering drugs, can increase a worker’s sun sensitivity. Encourage workers to speak with their doctors or your onsite clinic staff if they are concerned about how their medication may impact them. 

Discuss the UV index and all sun-related PPE, providing a list of nearby or online places where workers can purchase their own garments. Remind workers that you will have sunscreen and other items available for refills or if they forget something. 

Engage your onsite occupational healthcare team to educate your workers on the signs and symptoms of heat illnesses and sun overexposure. They can help your workers know what to look for in themselves and others and provide resources on where to get help in case of an incident. 

Your Partner in Onsite Health & Safety for Outdoor Workers 

Construction teams are at the mercy of the elements, which puts them at greater risk of occupational illnesses and injuries. To give your workers the immediate medical attention they need when there’s an issue and the support to stay healthy all year round, Medcor offers onsite occupational health clinics for construction sites. You can rest assured your team will be taken care of while keeping your costs low and reducing rates of workers’ comp claims and OSHA recordables. Speak with an advocate today.