Personal protective equipment is an important piece of the puzzle when it comes to ensuring safety on-site. But with news of successive heatwaves set to plague the UK this summer, a further question arises about the efficacy of PPE – and the suitability of certain items in different conditions. Here we will explore this question, looking at the effectiveness of essential PPE items and the choices that need to be made regarding weather.
PPE is essential for use on construction sites, owing to the presence of numerous hazards that threaten health and safety. Hard hats are a common requirement, owing to the risk of falling objects in the form of materials or tools. Hi-vis clothing is also important to wear on-site, where low-light conditions can make it difficult to see workers while manoeuvring equipment or raw materials.
Steel toe-capped boots are commonly worn to protect the extremities of the foot from falling objects and crush risks, while gloves are used to safely handle heavy, sharp, abrasive and toxic materials alike.
Hot weather alone can pose a risk to human health, whether in the form of sun-related injuries like sunburn, or heat stress and dehydration resulting from water loss in the form of sweat. With PPE often existing as an additional layer of clothing, it can quickly become uncomfortable to wear – and even quicken the onset of certain conditions.
With this in mind, employers should provide lightweight alternatives where possible. Lightweight boilersuits might replace full-body, heavy material jumpsuits; boots might be exchanged for breathable safety footwear, and safety goggles might be swapped out for safety glasses. But there are instances where PPE cannot be substituted, leading to the institution of increased rest breaks to enable cool-down.
In cold weather, of course, the inverse is true. Many items of PPE are able to provide an additional insulating layer, allowing workers to remain warm while they carry out their tasks. Indeed, the wearing of additional PPE may be mandated in order for workers to remain safe – such as padded gloves when handling cold materials. Rest breaks may also be necessary to enable workers to warm up.
Extreme Weather Conditions
Lastly, there are weather events that may be regarded as extreme – such as the upcoming heatwave, or the threat of an electrical storm. Events such as these can be regarded as separate risk entities, and beholden to assessment as with any other workplace risk. In many cases, their unpredictability can render the site unsafe, leaving the best option a temporary closure of the site.