When you walk outside on the first nice day of spring, the sun might feel like your long-lost best friend, but when you’re outside working hard in the middle of July, it can quickly become your most dangerous enemy instead. Pointing out this two-faced behavior of our closest star won’t do you any good at all. Instead, you’d better get prepared to stay cool.
That’s where sun protective work clothing comes in. When you’re on the job in a hot, sunny environment, this clothing is designed to protect you from the harsh effects the sun can have on your body. Cooling mesh designs, built-in SPF protection and moisture-wicking fabrics — these are the features that will help you beat the heat, and they’re all available in today’s best high visibility sun-protective clothing.
How can your workwear help keep you safe from the sun, and what workwear options are out there for professional sun protection? HiVis Supply’s safety workwear experts are here to talk about why you need sun protective clothing, the definition of SPF, the best cooling clothing for work and more.
Why Sun Exposure Can Be Hazardous
Why does our friend the sun treat us so badly sometimes? The medical hazards from sunlight come down to two major factors:
- UV Radiation: The sun produces several kinds of radiation, including visible light, infrared and ultraviolet (UV) rays. Most of these radiation types aren’t harmful, but UV rays can cause serious and permanent damage to your skin if you don’t protect yourself from them.
- Body Temperature: Exposure to the sun also raises your body temperature. As your body temperature rises, you sweat more and get dehydrated, you become tired and confused more easily and you increase your risk of heat exhaustion and other health problems, which we’ll talk about below.
Exposing your body to the sun will always come with risks. The longer you stay in the sun and the brighter it is that day, the more the risks increase. Even working on a cloudy day doesn’t protect you completely, and it’s possible to get sunburned in the shade or snow. Unfortunately, workers who have to do their jobs outside often don’t have a choice about whether to stay out of the sun or not, and the consequences of working unprotected in the sun can be severe. In the next section, we’ll talk about what they are.
Consequences of Sun Exposure
If you’ve ever gotten a sunburn from a day at the beach, or a day on the job, you’re already familiar with some of the negative consequences of sun exposure. But anyone who works in the sun needs to have a working knowledge of the full range of hazards that the sun can present:
- Sunburn: Sunburn happens when the sun’s UV rays, specifically a type called UVB rays, damage the top layers of your skin by killing skin cells there. It’s not a “burn” the same way as a burn from a hot stove is, but it hurts a lot all the same. What’s worse? Severe sunburn can produce permanent skin damage. Your body’s repair systems begin rushing blood and immune cells to the top layer, producing redness, pain and the other effects most of us associate with sunburn. People with fair skin become sunburned more quickly, but it can and does happen to anyone.
- Heat Exhaustion/Heat Stroke: Being in the sun for a long time without the right protection can also cause an unsafe rise in body temperature. This is heat exhaustion, and it’s dangerous because it impairs the function of your brain and other organs. Extreme cases of heat exhaustion, in which the body temperature rises over 104 F, are known as heat stroke and can be fatal. Common symptoms include fast breathing and heart rate, vomiting, headache and mental impairment.
- Dehydration: When you get hot, your body tries to cool down by sweating. But, if you don’t drink enough fluids to make up for the fluids you’re losing through sweat, your body can become dehydrated. Minor dehydration can have effects like headaches, dizziness, fatigue, dry mouth and other things that can make your day less pleasant and more accident-prone. Prolonged severe dehydration can cause permanent organ damage and even death if not treated.
- Prickly Heat/Heat Rash: Sweat that dries on your skin can clog your pores and produce an itchy red rash known as prickly heat or heat rash. Prickly heat usually subsides after the skin is cooled and cleaned, but it can make for a seriously awful workday, which means you’re more distractible and less focused.
- Carcinogenic Effects: Science has established that prolonged exposure to UV rays is a major risk factor for skin cancer. The permanent damage that UV radiation does to your skin can create mutations in your skin cells, which can, in turn, lead to developing cancers like melanoma later in life.
Before you head out to a hot and sunny job site, make sure you’re aware of the treatments for common heat emergencies and how to get help quickly for someone having symptoms.
Understanding SPF and UPF
Sun protection factor (SPF) is a phrase you’ve probably heard before. Chances are, you know SPF as a metric for measuring how effective a sunscreen is. However, instead of an SPF rating, clothing that protects from the sun is actually measured with a metric called ultraviolet protection factor (UPF).
An SPF rating is a measurement of how many times longer it will take UV light to damage your skin with protection vs. without it. A UPF rating, by contrast, represents the amount of UV radiation that a given piece of clothing blocks, on a scale of 15 to 50. For example, a garment with a listed UPF of 30 only allows 1/30th of the UV light through, meaning that only 3% of the UV radiation penetrates the garment. When you’re shopping for a sun protective garment, a UPF rating is a great feature to look for. A UPF 30 or UPF 50 rating means that the garment provides a very good or excellent level of protection against both UVA and UVB radiation. Now that we’ve talked about how this important metric works, let’s look at how it applies to different forms of sun protection.
Sunscreen and Beyond: Protecting Yourself from the Sun
Sunscreen is one of the main ways that people protect themselves from the sun while they’re on the job. It’s an essential part of the sun protection arsenal, so find a sunscreen that you like, preferably one with an SPF of 30 or higher.
If you work in the hot sun, you’re probably sweating a lot during your workday. That means you also need sunscreen with a water-resistant formula. Many sunscreens have either a 40-minute or 80-minute water resistance rating, which refers to how long the sunscreen takes to wear off for someone who’s either sweating or swimming.
However, sunscreen is hardly the be-all and end-all of sun protection. Shade is another must-have. If your outdoor job allows you to work in the shade between the brightest hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., you should do so as much as possible. Unfortunately, this isn’t practical for many people who work outside, but you should at least have a cool, shady area available for taking breaks.
Finally, there’s another really important piece of the puzzle: sun-resistant clothing. This includes things like hats, shirts, sun shields and pants designed to make it safer and more comfortable to work in the sun. Our next job is to talk about the technologies that these clothes use to accomplish that.
What Should You Look for in Sun Protective Clothing?
Sun protective clothing is specifically designed to offer protection from hot and sunny conditions, and it’s the best protective option for many people who work outdoors. High-performance sun gear can provide many important protective features, including:
- SPF Rating: An SPF rating is an outstanding indicator to look for in sun-protective workwear. SPF-rated clothes are specifically designed to block UV rays and keep your skin protected while you’re working. If you need SPF-rated clothing, you should look for garments with an SPF of at least 30.
- Body Coverage: Simply having part of your body covered with clothes provides a lot of protection from the sun. That’s why many outdoor workers use sun shields that fit over their hard hats to protect their faces and necks, or why they wear breathable long-sleeved clothing outside that prevents their arms from getting burned.
- Cooling Features: Clothing designed for working in the sun should have built-in cooling features to help prevent your body from overheating. These can take many forms, but one of the most common is construction with mesh fabric, especially in sweat-prone areas like the armpits and lower back. Cooling features are especially important if safety rules require you to wear long sleeves on the job.
- Moisture Wicking: On the job, sweat can turn from an annoyance into a liability when it dries on your body and starts to chafe. That’s why it’s important to have moisture-wicking clothing that can draw the moisture away from your skin and help it evaporate. Summer work shirts, both T-shirts and button-ups, should be made with moisture-wicking fabric, and it’s also often available in moisture-wicking base layers for colder weather outfits.
- High Visibility: Even in the sunshine, you need to be seen to be safe. High visibility workwear with reflective features and fluorescent colors is the best choice for making yourself visible to vehicle and machinery operators. Read up on the ANSI 107 standard to know what kind of high visibility features your workwear needs.
- High Contrast: In bright, sunny conditions, many workers choose daytime high contrast workwear. These garments include bold, bright patterns made with contrasting colors to give workers an extra visibility boost that stands out at any time of day.
Sun Protective Clothing from HiVis Supply
- Kishigo 2873/2874 Enhanced Visibility Full Brim Hard Hat Sun Shield: This sun shield fits directly over any standard hard hat and provides exceptional performance in a convenient form.
- Enhanced Visibility Moisture Wicking Reflective Cooling Multi-Band: For high versatility and cooling, it’s hard to beat this enhanced visibility head covering that can be worn as a gaiter or wrap-around headband.
- Radians ST31-3 Arctic Radwear Class 3 HiVis Segmented Long Sleeve Cooling Safety T-Shirt: Safety, comfort and style all come in the form of this moisture-wicking ANSI Class 3 safety T-shirt, with mesh inserts on the arms for all-day cooling.
- Work King ST08 Class 3 Segmented Tape Micro Mesh Long Sleeve T-Shirt: Another excellent choice for job site comfort and safety, these ANSI Class 3 hi vis T-shirts are made with an advanced polyester micro mesh that helps air circulate within.
- GSS Safety 7505/7506 Onyx Series Class 3 HiVis Performance Safety Wind Shirt: Experience pro-level protection in a stylish and economical ANSI Class 3 button-up, with SPF 50+ protection built into the fabric and moisture-wicking features for sweat relief during long days.
- GSS Safety 3803/3804 Class E HiVis Contrast Mesh Safety Pants: These safety pants include ANSI Class E visibility features that you can pair with an ANSI Class 2 vest for a Class 3 ensemble, and their polyester mesh fabric makes them extraordinarily light and breathable.
- Tough Duck SP01 Class E Safety Cargo Work Pant: Tough Duck’s ANSI Class E safety pants are the perfect blend of stylish and tough, with a woven polyester-cotton twill fabric that looks great and stands up to rough conditions.
- Utility Pro UHV829 Class 3 HiVis Birdseye Full Zip Safety Hoodie: This ANSI Class 3 hoodie is the ultimate solution for sun protection on a cooler day, with a birds-eye mesh for breathable comfort and a Teflon fabric protector coating for a longer-lasting garment.
Day in and day out, HiVis Supply helps working people get the job done. Looking for more high performance sun protective clothing for your summer work outfit? Check out everything we’ve got to offer in our summer safety section.