When choosing personal protective clothing (PPE) and workwear, the risks of the job are a vital consideration. However, it’s also important not to overlook the unique risks that come with the working environment. In the summer months, for example, when the sun’s UV rays are stronger and the temperatures can easily reach the mid 20s, there is the added risk of heat stroke when wearing heavy garments and sunburn for those who are working outdoors.
Keeping cool is one of the most effective ways to prevent heat stress on the body, but necessary workwear cannot be removed during a job, even in the summer, under UK legislation. At this time of year, employers have an extended responsibility to not only protect their workers from job risks, but also from the risks that come with the season.
Many employers want to know whether they can change their workers’ PPE in summer to help keep them cool and healthy. However, there is not a straightforward answer.
Whether you can — and whether you should — provide summer alternatives really depends on the job at hand. For workers that require arc flash protection, for example, there are certain standards that must be met when manufacturing PPE and it is not possible to produce a lightweight garment that can offer this level of protection.
In these cases, where workwear cannot safely be changed in the summer months, employers should promote other methods of staying healthy on-site. Encouraging employees to wear sun cream and swap to UV protection sunglasses and safety goggles, is a good idea, along with scheduling more frequent breaks for hydration. If it is safe to do so, employees should remove their PPE during breaks to allow trapped heat to escape.
For some jobs, however, workwear can be changed for the summer. Those requiring hi-vis jackets for visibility only may be able to swap heavy jackets for lightweight gilets and vests, while employers can also look into boiler suits made from breathable cotton.
At this time of year, it can be very easy to take a piece of equipment off during a break and forget to put it back on when re-entering the site, or to casually undo fastenings in a bid to keep cool. Monitoring and regulation of employees is even more essential when it’s warm, and workers should look out for each other in these environments.