June 3, 2024

Sun Protection & Cancer Prevention for Roofers: A Summer Guide

You work out in the sun all day long. And while that's one of the benefits of being a roofer, long-term sun exposure can be dangerous. Here's what you need to know to stay safe all summer.

Time to read:
5 minutes
Written by
Jennifer Cote

Roofing is a demanding job that exposes workers to the elements, especially the sun. We know that getting nice and tan is a bonus to working outside all season, but that type of long-term sun exposure can be dangerous. There are both long-term and short-term dangers to sun exposure. Knowing how to keep yourself and your team safe is vital.

In this blog, we're exploring:

  • Why sun protection is so important
  • Some stats around roofing and skin cancer
  • Easy ways to protect yourself from the sun
  • The best sun hat for roofers
  • Tips for business owners to promote sun safety

Why sun protection is so important

Sun exposure is a significant health risk for roofers due to the nature of their work. It’s incredibly important to take precautions to protect yourself and your team from these dangers.  Here are some reasons why sun protection is essential:

Preventing skin cancer

Prolonged exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun can lead to skin cancer. Roofers are at higher risk because they spend extended periods outdoors, often without adequate protection.

Avoiding sunburn

Sunburn is not just painful but also increases the risk of skin cancer. Repeated sunburns can lead to long-term skin damage.

Reducing heat-related illnesses

Working in direct sun increases the risk of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. These can be life-threatening if not managed properly. They pose a serious concern for roofers and workers who work outside all day long.

Preventing premature aging

UV exposure accelerates skin aging, leading to wrinkles, leathery skin, and age spots.

Maintaining overall health

Excessive sun exposure can weaken the immune system, making the body more susceptible to infections and illnesses.

Roofers need to take sun protection seriously

Roofers work all day in the sun, on hot roofs. There's little chance of any kind of sun protection while on a roof unless you make your own.

The average roofing job can take 1-3 days in the USA. That’s up to 24 hours under the sun, every week, all season long.

You may think that it won’t be a problem, but you'd be wrong. Sun stroke, severe sunburns, and skin cancer are both short term and long term consequences of sun exposure.

Increased risk of skin cancer for roofers

A study of cancer risk in asphalt workers and roofers found that roofers have a 4X higher likelihood of developing nonmelanoma skin cancer. They are also 2X as likely to develop melanoma skin cancer.

Melanoma VS nonmelanoma skin cancers

There are two types of skin cancers - melanoma and nonmelanoma. The two differ in the cells where the cancer originates.

Common types of nonmelanoma skin cancers are:

  • Basal cell carcinoma
  • Squamous cell carcinoma
  • Merkel cell carcinoma

Both of these are serious cancers, but can be treated if found early. Melanoma, however, can spread to other parts of the body if not treated, and is often considered more serious of the two.

Both melanoma and nonmelanoma skin cancers are linked to long exposure to UV rays and the sun. Sun protection is the best prevention against skin cancers.

How to protect yourself from the sun in the summer

There are several effective ways roofers can protect themselves from the harmful effects of the sun:

Wear protective UV-resistant clothing

Long-sleeved shirts, pants, and wide-brimmed hats provide a physical barrier against UV rays. You can get special clothing specifically made with UV protection. UV, or ultraviolet, is the light that naturally comes from the sun. Man-made sources like tanning beds or blaclights also project it.

Ultraviolet protection factors in to sun care because these rays are what can be harmful to your skin.

Lightweight, breathable fabrics can help keep you cool while protecting your skin.  But special UV-resistant clothing will either absorb or reflect the rays for an added layer of protection.

In general, wearing clothing that covers your shoulders, arms, and neck can go a long way in preventing sunburn.

Wear a hat

This technically falls under protective clothing, but we wanted to call it out again.

The best sun protection hat for roofers

The best hat for sun protection will have a wide brim to protect both your face, ears, and neck. While we love a baseball cap, these hats do leave your neck open to the sun. Leaning over a roof leaves the back of your neck wide open so a wide-brim hat can be key. A bucket hat, Tilley hat, or other wide-brim sun hat would be the best hat for a roofer.

Use sunscreen

Sunscreen can keep you protected from the sun.

What exactly is SPF?

SPF stands for sun protection factor. It is a measure of how well sunscreen protects our skin from the sun's rays, specifically its UVB rays. SPF rating comes from how long a product protects against sunburn.

For example, if untreated skin would burn in 10 minutes, skin treated with SPF 15 would take 15 times longer to burn. SPF 30 would take 30 times longer.

How much SPF do you need?

You should always choose a number that you're comfortable wearing. For people who are out in the sun all day long — like roofers — SPF 30 to 50 would be recommended.

Applying sunscreen: Tips

Always apply enough sunscreen to exposed areas. You should apply sunscreen to your face, neck, ears, and shoulders, at the very least.

Even though some sunscreen says it's water resistant, you should reapply sunscreen after sweating or throughout the day.

Keep a small tube of face sunscreen by your lunch so you can reapply easily after you eat.

Don't be skimpy! Sunscreen should be applied liberally for full coverage.

Be careful when using spray sunscreens in the wind. It can carry the product away, leaving you unprotected.

Wear sunglasses

UV-protective sunglasses shield your eyes from harmful rays, reducing the risk of cataracts and other eye conditions. Get cool branded ones for your team to encourage them to wear them. Everyone loves some swag.

Seek shade

Whenever possible, take breaks in shaded areas to reduce direct sun exposure. You could look at getting portable canopies or tents to keep in trailers for your team if needed. Taking breaks and letting your team sit in the shade is key, too.

Stay hydrated

Drink plenty of water throughout the day to stay hydrated and help regulate body temperature.

Schedule work wisely

Try to schedule outdoor work during the early morning or late afternoon when the sun’s intensity is lower. Be sure to check with homeowners if they're flexible on when you can come work on their roof.

The responsibility of roofing companies to protect their employees

We know that getting your crews to wear sunscreen or a hat isn’t easy. You’re their boss — what can you do?

But you do have a responsibility to both educate them about the dangers and provide options for them to protect themselves. Here’s why it’s essential to have these conversations with your team:

1. Legal and ethical responsibility: Employers are legally and ethically obligated to provide a safe working environment. This includes educating workers about the risks of sun exposure and providing necessary protective measures.

2. Reducing health risks: By promoting sun protection, you can help reduce the incidence of sun-related health issues, leading to a healthier workforce. Keeping your team safe is good for you, for them, and for business.

3. Enhancing productivity: Workers who are protected from the sun are less likely to suffer from sunburn, heat-related illnesses, and fatigue, resulting in higher productivity and fewer sick days.

4. Fostering a culture of safety: Emphasizing sun protection as part of workplace safety protocols fosters a culture of health and safety, showing employees that their well-being is valued.

How to help your team embrace sun protection

Implementing sun protection measures doesn’t have to be complicated. Here are some quick tips to make it easier:

Set reminders

Use alarms or apps to remind you to reapply sunscreen and take hydration breaks. Make breaks a part of your install schedule and plan for them when budgeting out a project timeline.

Keep supplies handy

Have sunscreen, water, sunglasses, and protective clothing readily available in your work truck or toolbox. Be sure to supply your team with sunscreen, hats, sunglasses, etc.

Educate and train

Regularly educate and train your team on the importance of sun protection and proper techniques.

Provide incentives

Encourage sun safety by providing incentives such as free sunscreen, branded protective clothing, or rewards for consistent use of sun protection measures.

Lead by example

The most important thing you can do as a business owner is to be the one to lead the conversation around sun protection. Wear a hat with a brim on site, and be seen putting on sunscreen.

Being the example can set the tone for how your crews look at sun protection.

Use technology

Utilize apps that provide UV index forecasts to plan your day and take extra precautions when UV levels are high. Auto alerts for your team can be a great way to keep sun safety top of mind.

Sun protection and skin cancer prevention

Sun protection is a critical aspect of health and safety for roofers. Protecting yourself and being proactive is the best way to prevent skin cancer and other sun-related illnesses in roofers.

By understanding the risks associated with sun exposure and implementing effective protective measures, roofers can significantly reduce their risk of skin cancer, heat-related illnesses, and other health issues. Business owners have a responsibility to promote sun safety through education, provision of protective gear, and fostering a culture of safety.

Adopt simple and practical sun protection strategies to make it easy to protect yourself and your team. These simple changes can help your team enjoy a safer, healthier work environment.

Remember, a few minutes of prevention can make a lifetime of difference.

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