While it’s great when the weather warms up, heat – especially for us Brits who aren’t acclimatised to it – can cause significant issues, especially for those who can’t escape.
In July 2022, Britain recorded its hottest temperatures ever, with predictions of up to 40 degrees in London, trains cancelled and everyone told to stay indoors if possible.
But, as all of us in the construction trade know, a lot of the time, staying indoors isn’t possible; our work is on building sites and it’s not feasible to simply down tools and sit in the shade with a cool drink.
So, if you’re in an industry where keeping in the shade isn’t always possible, we’ve come up with some tips to make sure you stay safe in the sun.
The most important tip is to keep drinking, water preferably. If you’re not able to carry a bottle wherever you go – and we appreciate it’s not always possible on a building site – make sure you have relatively easy access to some and make time for frequent hydration breaks. Water will stop you becoming dehydrated as you sweat and help prevent overheating.
Another basic tip is to wear suncream, even if it’s cloudy. Pick SPF 30 of higher, opt for water resistant where possible and reapply frequently.
Wherever possible, try to plan your work so you’re not outside when the mercury rises, choosing these days to catch up on office work instead.
If working outside is unavoidable, do your best to be inside during the hottest part of the day – generally between 11am and 3pm, when the sun is at its highest.
Acting shady and taking a break
If working indoors is impossible, stay in the shade whenever you can outdoors. Working at height, for example on a roof, might make this harder, which is why you should factor in regular breaks in the shade – have a drink while you’re at it.
Taking a break will not only keep you away from the sun’s glare, but it will also allow your body time to recover – something that is even more important when doing physical work on a sunny day.
Regular breaks can stop your body reaching such a high temperature that it can’t cool itself down again.
In hot weather, you need to find a balance between wearing kit that’s safe for the job and safe for the weather. Hard hats on construction sites are non-negotiable, although they do have the benefit of keeping the sun off your head. Specialist lightweight safety apparel is available, and may be worth the investment if you’re outside a lot during the summer months.
Be aware of the signs of heatstroke and heat exhaustion, which are the two main complications of working outdoors in hot weather.
According to the NHS, heat exhaustion is not usually serious if you can cool down within 30 minutes; otherwise, it may turn into heatstroke, which needs to be treated as an emergency.
Symptoms of heat exhaustion include excessive thirst, a temperature of 38 degrees or more, a headache, dizziness and confusion, and pale, clammy skin.
To treat someone with heat exhaustion, first move them to a cool place before getting them to lie down and raise their feet slightly.
Get them to drink plenty of water and cool their skin by spraying or sponging them with cool water and fanning them.
Heatstroke happens when a person is unable to cool down even after the above treatment, and symptoms include a temperature of 40 degrees or more, and not sweating even while feeling hot.
It’s a medical emergency and you should always ring 111 for advice.
Working outside when the weather is good can be one of the attractions of working in construction; no stuffy offices, with only one window and aircon that’s seen better days.
But it’s important to take note of the tips above to make sure we all stay safe in the sun, and don’t end up with a nasty case of sunburn – or worse.