Laborers who spend most of the day working outdoors know that August brings some of the hottest days of the year. If you’ve been following the LHSFNA’s series on sun protection this summer, you know that the best way to fight those sweltering summer days is through acclimatization and healthy doses of water, rest and shade.
You may be looking forward to those fall months when temperatures become cooler and make working outdoors more enjoyable. But that doesn’t mean you should let those good summer habits such as wearing sunscreen and sunglasses go by the wayside.
Damage from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays is not related to temperature. So even though the sun is strongest in the summer months, it doesn’t stop being a hazard just because it doesn’t feel hot on your skin. Harmful UVA rays still cause permanent damage to your skin and eyes, while UVB rays cause those painful sunburns.
Overexposure to UV rays has made skin cancer the most common cancer in the U.S., with nearly 5 million cases treated each year. Skin cancer has become so widespread that the Skin Cancer Foundation estimates one in five people will be diagnosed with skin cancer in their lifetime. That’s why the LHSFNA recommends LIUNA members take precautions all year long.
How Strong Is the Sun Where You Live?
Similar to the heat index for heat stress, the UV index measures the strength of the sun’s UV rays using a scale from 0-11+. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shows the UV forecast for the next several days on their website and offers free apps for both Android and iPhone that give daily readings.
So once you know the UV index in your area, what can you do to protect yourself? The following recommendations provide some rough guidelines. (Click on the image for a larger version.)
In the summer months it’s not uncommon for the entire U.S. to be in the “Very High” range on the UV index – but what about the fall and winter months? In certain areas of the U.S. such as southern California, Hawaii, Texas and Florida, “Very High” UV exposure ratings can last well into October.
But what if you live in a cooler part of the country like Boston? The city may have broken records this year for the snowiest winter in Boston’s history, but the average UV exposure rating was still “Moderate” in March and “High” by mid-April. Even though the sun isn’t as intense during those early spring or fall months, you should still take precautions when spending time outdoors. Check out the EPA’s website to find out the average UV index for other major cities and areas around the U.S.
With a little planning, it’s possible to protect yourself from the sun’s damaging rays year-round. The LHSFNA’s Sun Sense Plus 2015 program provides a variety of educational materials and sun protection products to help LIUNA members achieve this goal. From sample packets of sunscreen and lip balm to bookmarks that show the warning signs of melanoma, the Fund keeps LIUNA members covered. Sun Sense Plus 2015 products can be ordered by contacting the Health Promotion Division at 202-628-5465 and publications can be ordered by going to www.lhsfna.org and clicking on Publications. For more information about sun protection or incorporating sun safety in your existing site safety and health program, call the Fund’s Health Promotion Division.
Sun Protection Basics
Although the sun is a hazard year-round, protecting yourself from its harmful rays is relatively easy. Here are a few tips about how to get the most out of your sun protection.
Sunscreen: Look for a “broad spectrum” sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 (use SPF 30 if you’ll be outdoors for an extended time). Reapply every two hours, or more often if you’re sweating heavily or swimming.
Sunglasses: Use sunglasses that block 99-100 percent of UVA/UVB rays. Wrap-around sunglasses that block the sides of the face are best. And there’s no need to break the bank on those pricy shades – less expensive pairs perform just as well.
Hats: Any hat that keeps the sun out of your eyes and off your face will do, but a wide-brim hat also protects the ears and neck – very common areas for sunburn.
Clothing: Long-sleeve shirts offer great protection from the sun. More clothing manufacturers are now making clothes with built-in ultraviolet protection known as UPF. A shirt with UPF 50 blocks 10 times more UV rays than a regular white cotton t-shirt.