Exposed to the elements: protecting your body when working outdoors


“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.” So goes the saying. Most indoor workers gaze wistfully out of the window on fine days but are happy to stay at their desks when the rain teems down. Outdoor workers have to make the best of all weathers, and suitable clothing (and other equipment) is essential, not only for comfort but for health and safety.

Sun

There is no excuse for not knowing how dangerous exposure to the sun can be. Many outdoor workers pride themselves on a well-tanned body, but the sun’s ultra-violet rays pack a harmful punch. The main danger is the risk of developing a harmful skin cancer, which can be life-threatening. Even without that, the long-term effects of too much sun include a rapid aging effect on the skin. People with fair skin, fair hair, or a large number of moles are especially at risk.

Forget the “Coca-Cola guy” and cover up whenever you are working in the sun. Wear a shirt, a hat (preferably with a brim or flap to cover ears and neck), and use high factor sunscreen. Move out of the sun for your rest periods and check your skin regularly for unusual or changing moles or spots. Remember that on cloudy days you can still be exposed to harmful ultra-violet rays.

Heat

With or without sunshine, heat is a risk factor, especially on days when high humidity makes it harder to sweat effectively. Heat-related illnesses occur when the body cannot regulate its internal temperature. This can result in rashes, cramps, heat exhaustion, and potentially fatal heat stroke.

Avoiding heat-induced illness is largely down to working practices, such as acclimatization, high water consumption, and more frequent rest breaks, but it is also helped by wearing light clothing designed to carry heat and sweat away from the body.

Cold

Being cold is always uncomfortable, and exposure to cold can make it harder to think clearly and avoid accidents. Exposure to temperatures below -10ºC can be dangerous. The two main risks are frostbite and hypothermia.

Clearly, the most important thing is to keep well covered in cold temperatures. You especially need to protect your hands and feet—if your body is feeling warm because of your physical activity, it is easy to overlook the fact that your fingers and toes are too cold. Your hat and gloves should be well insulated and you should wear high-quality boots like Steel Blue for comfort which also give a good grip in icy conditions.

Rain

Rain is not a direct threat to health, but it is very relevant to safety. Rainy conditions can make things slippery and they can also reduce visibility. Getting cold in the rain can make you careless.

Use equipment that is certified for use in wet conditions, especially if it is electric. Wear boots and gloves that have a good grip when wet. Make sure that the legs of your pants go over your boots so that water does not run inside them. Your waterproof clothing needs to be breathable and well ventilated to keep your body temperature right; it also needs to be high-visibility so that other people can see you clearly. Use a hood to keep rain out of your eyes, and if you wear goggles, keep them dry and de-misted.

All Conditions

In an office, employers can regulate the environment to provide the best conditions for their workforce. Outside, there are no such luxuries and you rely on the right equipment to protect you. Make sure that you always use the right personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect:

  • Your hearing. Outside work can be very noisy and long-term exposure can result in irreversible hearing loss. Wear appropriate earmuffs or earplugs.
  • Your head. Head injuries account for a significant number of serious accidents outside. Always wear a helmet where there is any risk of falling or being hit by objects.
  • Your eyes. Your sight is precious, so protect it with appropriate equipment, from eye shields to goggles to full face shields.
  • Your lungs. In dusty or smoky environments, wear filters and replace them regularly.

Safety First

Working outdoors is a dream for many people, but it comes with a wide range of hazards that do not affect the indoor worker. Every day it is the shared responsibility of employer and worker to consider the weather and to decide on the right equipment for the work to be done. With care and common sense, workers can enjoy their outdoor workplace safely and healthily.


About the author

Isobel Walker always knew an office job was not for her, too much a tomboy, always happiest when playing outdoors in the mud it was bo