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Five Tips for Working in a Heatwave

Five Tips for Working in a Heatwave
20 July 2021 | Updated 22 July 2021

As the UK enjoys a week of warm weather, Alex Minett, Head of Product & Markets at CHAS, shares some tips for working comfortably in a heatwave.

Alex Minett has overall responsibility for all of the CHAS products both current and new. He has an in-depth knowledge of the SHEQ sector in the UK and internationally from a contracting and consulting perspective having established SHEQ strategies for multiple businesses including blue-chip companies, across diverse sectors. Minett also has extensive knowledge of construction best practices and compliance having worked for 20 years in the construction sector including on iconic projects such as the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics and the Battersea Power Station where he advised on safety measures for the demolition and re-erection of the four iconic chimneys.



Picture: a photograph of Alex Minett 


Working Comfortably in a Heatwave


While temperatures have been variable in the UK this summer, the UK's ten warmest years on record have all occurred since 2002 and overall, the world is hotting up; the highest temperature ever recorded on earth was observed in Death Valley on June 9th 2021, where it reached of 54.4°C. With extreme hot spells often arriving with little warning, employers and employees alike must be ready to recognise and manage the risks.


1. Sun Protection


The potential for skin damage and skin cancer from unprotected exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays is one of the better understood hot weather hazards, yet according to the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, skin cancer is rising faster than any other common cancer. It’s therefore essential that outdoor workers understand the risks and know how to stay protected.

All skin types are susceptible to damage, but people with red or fair hair and light coloured eyes and those with many moles are at increased risk.

The good news is that skin cancer is almost entirely preventable and several measures can be taken to stay safe when working in the sun. These include: Keeping t-shirts and tops on, wearing a hat that covers areas vulnerable to sunburn - such as the ears and back of the neck, staying in the shade where possible, using a high factor sunscreen of SPF 15+ and checking skin regularly for unusual spots or moles.


2. Be Alert to Heat-Related Illnesses


As temperatures rise so does the risk of suffering heat-related illnesses, commonly referred to as heat stress. Heat stress can include relatively minor issues like heat cramp and heat rash along with more severe conditions such as heat exhaustion and heatstroke. Treating heat exhaustion quickly can reverse the effects but a blood temperature rise above 39.5°C can turn into heatstroke, which is a medical emergency. Regular training can help workers to recognise and respond to the signs of heat-related illnesses.


3. Consider Control Measures


Several control measures can reduce the risks associated with working in the heat. These include scheduling work for cooler times of day and alternating tasks to avoid sustained periods of outdoor work.

It’s also a good idea to provide shade where possible and consider window tints for vehicles operating in direct sunlight. Increasing the frequency of breaks during hot spells and providing shaded or air-conditioned rest areas with access to water can also be helpful.   


4. Provide Protection


Covering up with long-sleeved cool clothing, wearing hard hat neck shades or legionnaires hats with a flap and brim to protect the ears and neck and using high-factor sunscreen can all help guard against sunburn while breathable safety footwear can ensure workers stay comfortable and protected.

Some workers may appreciate cooling vests that can be ice-cooled like ice packs and cooling bandanas, towels and wraps.

When it comes to sunglasses, look for the European CE mark, which indicates a safe level of protection. Ideally, sunglasses should be close fitting and wrap around to prevent solar UVR entering around the edges and don’t forget to make sure they’re compatible with other PPE.


5. Create a Sun Protection Policy


Sun protection policies are commonplace in countries such as Australia, where they have a large number of sunny days and a high UV index but as temperatures rise in the UK, they are also becoming more popular.

A sun protection policy could include any of the measures set out above as well as providing details of any training schedules and pledging a commitment to review your approach regularly.

The charity offers a free Sun Safe Workplaces accreditation scheme which involves creating and uploading a sun protection policy as a written document that records why and how the solar UVR risk is to be managed.

Picture: a photograph of a construction worker, wiping sweat from their forehead

Article written by Alex Minett  | Published 20 July 2021


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