OSHA Sun Safety: What Does OSHA Say About Working in the Sun?

We all love the sun, but even this life-giving star has a “dark side.” Potentially fatal conditions like heat stroke and melanoma result from overexposure to the sun. Especially for people who work outdoors, ignoring these risks is dangerous. 

When it comes to the well-being of workers, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is a trusted authority, so naturally, people turn to them for sun protection guidelines. In this post, we’ll take a comprehensive look at OSHA sun safety, including the risks involved in working outdoors and what you can do about them. 

OSHA’s Guidelines for Working in the Sun Safely

As part of the United States Department of Labor, OSHA has a mission to “ensure safe and healthful working conditions for workers by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education, and assistance.” 

Thanks to OSHA, employers by law must provide safe and healthful workplaces for their employees and do everything possible to prevent workers from getting harmed or killed on the job. 

According to OSHA, Heat Stress Risks Include…

  • Heatstroke: This is the most severe heat-related illness, which can cause death or permanent disability, characterized by high body temperature, throbbing headache, lack of sweating, confusion, and loss of consciousness. Emergency medical treatment is required. 
  • Heat Exhaustion: Symptoms include heavy sweating, faintness or dizziness, pale and clammy skin, weakness, and nausea. The worker should be removed to a cool environment and given water. 
  • Heat syncope: an episode of dizziness or fainting that often occurs from prolonged standing or rising suddenly from a seated position. First aid includes cooling down and hydrating. 
  • Heat cramps: muscle pain or spasms in the abdomen or limbs that result from excessive sweating. Treatment is hydration and rest in a cool area.
  • Heat rash: clusters of small red pimples or blisters from hot, humid conditions. Keep the area cool and dry as possible, and apply dry powders rather than creams or ointments. 
  • Sunburn: red, painful, or itchy skin that is hot to the touch and may blister. Increases risk of skin cancer, sun spots, and wrinkles. Apply soothing ointments such as aloe vera gel and avoid further exposure.
  • Skin cancer: all sun exposure is a potential risk of skin cancer, particularly burns. Use adequate sun protection. 
  • Cataracts and other eye problems: may occur from excessive sun exposure. Use sunglasses with UV protection.
  • Increased risk of an accident: may result from factors like sweaty hands, sun-blindness, and exhaustion or confusion. 

Additional risk factors that may increase the danger of heat stress include:

  • Direct sunlight
  • Limited air movement
  • Heavy exertion
  • Other sources of heat such as furnaces or exhaust
  • Heavy or non-breathable PPEs
  • Dehydration
  • Age over 60
  • Pregnancy
  • Poor health or recent illness
  • Alcohol use in the past 24 hours
  • Lack of acclimatization 
  • Certain medications
  • Fair skin or hair, freckles, and numerous irregularly shaped moles are additional risk factors for skin cancer

OSHA’s Sun Protection Recommendations 

While OSHA doesn’t mandate any specific measures against sun exposure, they have put out numerous fact sheets that present sun safety guidelines and sun protection recommendations. 

Moreover, OSHA’s general duty clause requires that employers do everything reasonably possible to address severe hazards in the workplace, even when OSHA sets no official standard on the matter. One example of such threats is a heat-related illness. 

So, for instance, employers aren’t required to provide workers with sunscreen, but its use is recommended, along with sun protection safety talks to educate workers on OSHA sun safety.  

OSHA’s sun protection recommendations for outdoor workers include….

  • Wear sun-protective UPF clothing 
  • Use sunscreen with SPF 15 or greater
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat
  • Use sunglasses that block UVA and UVB rays
  • Stay hydrated
  • Take frequent breaks in a cooler area
  • Eat regular meals and snacks
  • Use the buddy system to monitor for symptoms of heat-related illness

OSHA’s sun protection recommendations for employers and supervisors….

  • Host sun-exposure safety talks to educate workers about risks and best practices.
  • Train personnel to recognize symptoms of heat-related illness and encourage them to report incidents immediately.
  • Provide plenty of cool water and shaded break areas with fans or air conditioning.
  • Monitor the weather and reduce demands on workers in extreme conditions.
  • Avoid scheduling the heaviest labor around the period of the most intense sun (between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.)
  • Allow new workers to acclimatize gradually to the heat.
  • Have a protocol for workers suffering from heat stress, including emergency response for those exhibiting signs of heatstroke.

What To Wear: Essential PPEs for Working in the Sun Safely:

Having the right personal protective equipment for working in extreme heat or direct sunlight with harsh UV rays is considered part of addressing the severe hazards of the outdoor workplace. PPE for working outdoors extends beyond hardhats and ANSI safety vests. PPE for outdoor workers in the harsh sun and summertime heat should start with UV-blocking clothing.

  • UPF clothing
  • Sunscreen
  • Wide-brimmed hat
  • Sunglasses with UV protection

More reasons to wear UPF Clothing when working outside…

  • Easier to see in bright light
  • Blocks wind irritation
  • Prevents dust, dirt, and pollen from entering the eyes
  • Guards against foreign objects and chemical splashes
  • Protects against accidents with tools or machines
  • Prevents conditions such as cataracts and growths in the eyes

Here are five hydration do’s and don’ts to keep in mind:

  • Drink 1 cup (8 oz.) every 15-20 minutes while working in the heat
  • Do not rely on thirst to tell you when to drink, as it lags behind dehydration by several hours
  • Don’t drink extreme amounts of water (more than 48 cups in 24 hours)
  • Do drink sports drinks or coconut water to replace electrolytes after excessive sweating
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol

Be aware of the drugs that cause increased sensitivity to sunlight…

  • Diuretics
  • Blood pressure medications such as thiazides 
  • Antifungals like flucytosine and griseofulvin
  • Antihistamines like diphenhydramine
  • Antibiotics such as tetracycline, doxycycline, and sulfa antibiotics
  • Cholesterol-lowering drugs, including simvastatin and pravastatin 
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen
  • Oral contraceptives and estrogens

(The FDA provides a complete list of drugs.) 

Learn about sun protection and how UPF clothing works to keep you safe on the job:

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