For those working outdoors on the job site, the summer heat is no joke. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), July is the warmest month of the year for most of the country. High temperatures can create serious hazards for workers, such as heat exhaustion and heatstroke. These life-threatening conditions are caused by overexerting oneself in hot temperatures when the body is unable to cool itself down effectively. Another potential health issue posed by outdoor work during the summer is skin cancer caused by UV radiation from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Naturally, those who regularly work in outdoor environments are at more risk.
Despite these potential dangers, there are several proactive measures workers should take to protect themselves from both high temperatures and the sun. Here are a few important tips to keep in mind while working outdoors this summer.
Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate!
Drinking water is essential for everyone, but especially for those in the trades who need to be operating at peak performance levels. Water provides a multitude of critical benefits to the body, and it is crucial to regulating and maintaining body temperature, removing waste, and keeping the mouth, eyes, nose, hair, skin, joints, and digestive tract properly hydrated. H2O also is vital to the brain. Roughly 85% of the brain consists of water, which helps efficiently deliver nutrients and remove toxins.. When you are fully hydrated, you are able to be more alert, think quickly, and concentrate more effectively.
Interestingly enough, the brain is unable to naturally store water, so even slight levels of dehydration can cause the brain to shrink in size. According to Water Benefits Health, when water loss is only 2% of body weight, important brain functions can be negatively impaired including short-term memory and visual-motor tracking. This is dangerous for anyone working on a job site, who is often working with heavy machinery. With all of this in mind, it is best not to skip water breaks. If you are slightly thirsty, you are probably already experiencing dehydration and potentially slower reaction times.
Research from Water Natura suggests that a staggering 75% of Americans are dehydrated, so when it comes to battling the heat, drinking plenty of water is a great step to take. Here are several more specific recommendations for works on the job site:
● Start hydrating before work. It is recommended that outdoor workers drink at least 16-20 ounces of water one to two hours before starting the day.
● Drink between 6 and 12 ounces of water every 10 to 15 minutes you are outdoors. Also, consider what protective gear you are wearing at work--workers in heavy PPE can lose as much as 2.25 liters per hour when outdoors in the heat.
● Keep your water cool. The body is able to absorb water in the 50-60 degree range faster than warmer temperatures. There are many great insulated stainless steel water bottles from brands like HydroFlask that can keep water cold almost all day. Another option is Truewerk’s Hydra WerkPack which ensures you can always have water that is readily available.
● Stay hydrated after work. Workers need to replace what was lost throughout the day, so drinking at least another 16 to 24 ounces (2-3 glasses) can help ensure hydration.
● A healthy diet cannot be overlooked. 20% of water intake comes from food. Some high-water foods that also provide the body with nutrients include watermelon, cantaloupe, berries, cucumbers, and leafy greens.
According to research from the Cancer Society, outdoor workers are ten times more likely to develop conditions from UV radiation. The damage from this radiation is permanent and increases with each exposure. UV radiation is almost always present in outdoor environments, and its potential to affect the skin is impacted by factors such as sun elevation, latitude, altitude, and cloud cover. Job sites often feature reflective surfaces that can also bounce UV radiation onto your exposed skin. All skin tones can be damaged by UV radiation.
Although UV radiation is a serious hazard, only 18% of outdoor workers report that they wear sunscreen on a regular basis. This is a very low percentage of workers, but it’s understandable. Sunscreen is sticky, it attracts dust and debris to your skin, and it often doesn’t even last the whole day. Re-application can waste valuable time. But despite the inconvenience, sunscreen is essential to protecting workers from UV radiation.
Protective Clothing Innovations
There are also ways to protect your skin from the sun’s ultraviolet rays in situations where sunscreen isn’t practical. One solution is to wear protective clothing that covers vulnerable areas such as the arms and neck. These kinds of clothing should have an Ultraviolet Protection Factor rating. Otherwise known as UPF, this numerical rating for clothing indicates how effectively a garment blocks UV radiation.
Advancements in workwear have created no shortage of innovative protective clothing options for a variety of working environments, including Truewerk’s T.5 WerkHoody or Cloud Shirt. These clothes are made with lightweight, fast-drying and breathable fabric designed to keep workers cool and protected from the sun. Beyond the arms and neck, workers should also remember to protect their heads and faces. To this end, we recommend wearing a hat and investing in a pair of sunglasses that offer UV protection.
Identifying the Warning Signs
Beyond taking measures to protect against the heat and the sun, workers should also be able to identify warning signs that indicate heat exhaustion and dehydration. Indicators include dizziness, fatigue, and confusion. Urination can also provide visual measures of hydration. Workers should be familiar with the “golden rule” test: clear to pale urine usually implies sufficient hydration, but yellow and gold urine typically implies you need to be drinking more water.
It is vital to be proactive about looking for these warning signs. When heat exhaustion is not treated right away, it can lead to heatstroke, a potentially life-threatening condition. It’s always worth it to take the extra time to protect yourself, whether that be drinking extra water, applying sunscreen, or throwing on some protective clothing.
While there are risks when it comes to outdoor work in the summer, there are many protective steps that can be taken to prepare for both the sun and heat. Hydration not only helps combat potential health risks but can also significantly contribute to peak job performance and productivity. UV radiation is a hazard that should not be ignored. In addition to sunscreen, protective clothing with UPF is a great alternative when it comes to protecting your skin from the ultraviolet rays of the sun. Finally, everyone on a job site should know how to recognize early warning signs of conditions caused by working outdoors in the heat. The hazards of outdoor work should never be ignored, but when everyone takes the appropriate precautionary steps, everyone can stay cool and productive, even during the heat of the summer.
About the Author
Josh Segal is a Marketing Associate at Truewerk, a direct-to-consumer performance workwear brand driven to protect, promote, and empower industrial athletes through comfortable, high-performance workwear.