For many, the summer months mean beach vacations, lounging by the pool, and more time outside in the sun. For construction workers, summer means working long hours in the scorching sun. All that time in the sun can lead to an increased risk of sunburn, sun poisoning, and skin cancer. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States with approximately one million people diagnosed with a type of skin cancer each year. The three main types of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma, are primarily caused by ultraviolet (UV) radiation from exposure to sunlight. Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are the most common types of skin cancer and tend to remain localized. Melanoma is the least common of the three, but also the deadliest of the three. Melanoma is an aggressive form of skin cancer that can spread quickly to other parts of the body and can be fatal if not treated early enough. The two types of ultraviolet rays that penetrate the Earth’s atmosphere are UVA and UVB. Both UVA and UVB rays can cause skin cancer, and UVA rays are believed to be the main cause of most skin cancers. UV rays are strongest during spring and summer. Construction workers need to take extra precautions to protect themselves when working outdoors to limit their exposure to the sun and UV rays. Sun protection clothing The clothing a construction worker wears is an important part of protecting your skin from UV rays. Clothing is the best form of sun protection, but not all clothing provides the same level of UV protection. Several factors such as material, fabric, and color affect the amount of UV rays a material blocks. Long-sleeved shirts and pants made of knit materials in dark colors that provide the best UV protection. There are also clothing options rated UPF, which provides great protection, and are usually made of lightweight fabrics treated with sunscreen chemicals or special dyes to block UV rays. Choose clothing with an SPF of 50 or higher for the best protection that only allows 1/50 of the sun’s UV rays to reach your skin. By comparison, a thin, white cotton T-shirt has a UPF of about 5. Wearing a wide-brimmed hat is a great way to protect your face, ears, and neck from the sun. If you wear a hard hat most of the day, there are accessories available that can be fitted above or below the hard hat to provide a wide brim or protect the neck from the sun. Sunglasses or goggles that provide UVA and UVB protection should be worn any time you are in the sun. Make sure you choose a pair that fits comfortably and offers 99 – 100% UV protection. Apply plenty of sunscreen Wearing sunscreen is an important part of protecting construction workers from UV rays. You want to choose a broad spectrum sunscreen that offers both UVB and UVA protection. Sun protection factor (SPF) is also important to consider when choosing the right sunscreen to use. SPF measures the amount of protection against ultraviolet rays. Sunscreen with SPF 30 protects 30 times more UVA rays than unprotected skin before it starts to turn red. So, if your unprotected skin starts to turn red after 10 minutes, skin covered with sunscreen with SPF 30 protects your skin for 300 minutes. Sun Protection Factor (SPF) also determines how much UV rays are blocked when worn. Sunscreen with SPF 15 blocks 93% of UV rays, while SPF 30 blocks 97%. Construction workers should also consider choosing a waterproof sunscreen. The waterproof sunscreen is rated to last 40 minutes or 80 minutes. Construction workers should use a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher and water resistant for 80 minutes. Sunscreen should be applied to all exposed skin at least 20 minutes before going outdoors. Remember to reapply at least every two hours. Reapply frequently on days when the UV index is high. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations to make sure you are using enough sunscreen to adequately protect your skin. Staying in the shade Establishing temporary shade is a good way to protect construction workers from exposure to the sun. Limiting exposure to UV rays during strong daytime periods, from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM, is not always easy depending on the type of work being done. At a minimum, employers should have a tent or other shaded area available for workers to use during breaks and meals. Sun exposure is one of the hazards to the job site that is often overlooked by employers or given less attention due to the more serious hazards present at the job site. Making sure construction workers are aware of the dangers of UV rays and providing training on the different forms of sunscreen they should use can go a long way in preventing painful sunburns and the possibility of skin cancer in protecting workers. Stay hydrated and for tips on beating the summer heat, be sure to check out Keeping Cool at the construction site.