The British weather is notoriously unreliable, but even our summers produce hot, dry spells that although welcomed by most of us, are potentially harmful to construction workers continually exposed to the sun’s damaging UV rays.
Roofers are particularly at risk when temperatures soar and shade is hard to come by. Which is why, it is worth providing a reminder of safety measures workers ought to be taking when toiling in the great outdoors.
Working outside increases the risk of developing skin cancer, with 1,700 people being diagnosed with the condition each year in the UK. Around 60 of these diagnosed cases are fatal. Although those with fair or freckled skin and people with a large number of moles are most susceptible to skin cancer – or malignant melanoma. The sun doesn’t need to be visible to be damaging. Up to 80% of its harmful UV rays can pierce the clouds, so even if we’re not basking in an undiluted solar blaze, we are not immune to its burn.
Just as we would prepare for a cold, rainy day on site by wearing thermals and waterproofs, we should ensure we’re appropriately dressed for brighter days. On hot, sunny occasions, apparel that offers good sun protection whilst conforming to the usual health and safety standards is a must. Long-sleeved tops and bottoms, made from closely-knit materials and breathable fabrics in darker colours, are thought to offer the best UV protection. Come rain or shine, hard hats are a site essential, but in summer months workers are advised to accessorise their headgear with a cloth or a longer piece of material. This should be fitted beneath the hat to protect ears and the neck area.
When working at high levels, the sun’s glare can be detrimental to the eyes in the long-term; its reflection off surfaces for extended periods of time making life particularly uncomfortable. To counteract this, shades or tinted glasses that offer UVB and UVA protection should be worn. Wraparound glasses that cover more of the face offer the best protection. They have the added bonus of being considered something of a fashion statement; thus keeping the wearer safe and looking cool, a win-win situation if ever there was one.
Sunscreen is an obvious antidote to sunburn and the associated long-term risks. A high factor lotion which offers a minimum of SP15 protection should be applied to exposed skin and reapplied every two hours. Skin needs time to absorb sunscreen, therefore workers should allow 20 minutes post-lotion application before heading outside. Remaining hydrated is also crucial to staying safe in the sun. Again, this is not easily achieved when working on a roof, so for convenience – and safety’s sake, operatives should keep a filled water bottle with them at all times and with the sun’s UV rays at their most potent between 10am and 4pm, ensure lunch and tea break times are taken in the shade.
Whatever the weather, personal responsibility plays a large part in keeping individuals safe. No amount of warnings or safety advice will suffice if somebody is set on soaking up the sun regardless of the long-term consequences (be aware: lengthy, unprotected exposure to the sun can also significantly age your skin). Therefore, as a reminder for our clients to take care in the sun this summer whilst on site, Sika has issued them with branded UV wristbands. These smart, unobtrusive items alert the wearer when they have undergone too much UV exposure by changing colour. As an additional protective measure, we are also providing free sunscreen for operatives. It’s a simple gesture which aims to make a serious point about the dangers our customers face in not taking proper precautions when working outside this summer. Because when it comes to sunshine, you really can have too much of a good thing.
Steve Jasper, a Field Technician at Sika, said its UV wristbands and sun cream had been warmly received by customers. “One fitter told me we’d provided him with the industry’s number one roofing membrane, therefore the sun cream was an added bonus. He was very appreciative of the fact that Sika products not only protect your roof but our field teams are focused on protecting the people that install them. It was extremely pleasing to hear such a reaction.”