As soaring temperatures prompted the Met Office to issue a heat health warning last week, and the weather is forecast to soon heat up again at least until mid-August, roofing contractors are particularly at risk of heatstroke and sunburn.
Many contractors report dangerously high temperatures on exposed rooftops across the country. One roofer, who wishes to remain anonymous, took a thermometer on to the rooftop of the urban project their company was working on last week and recorded a working environment temperature of 54oC.
They showed the thermometer to their supervisor who agreed to more breaks and an earlier start and later finish to compensate for the time, helping to avoid working during the hottest hours of the day: 11am-2pm.
The TUC has warned employers that measures must be taken to protect outdoor workers, including:
- scheduling work to avoid the hottest parts of the day,
- providing shelter and canopies to shade workers from the sun,
- providing sun screen and suitable clothing and hats to protect the skin, and
- providing breaks and a ready supply of cold drinks.
What the roofers say
We asked roofers for tips on staying cool while working on roofs in this summer’s heatwave. Suggestions included:
Working on the side of the roof away from the sun. Obviously, this only works on a pitched roof, but working on the west facing elevation in the morning and switching to the east in the afternoon will give some respite leading up to and away from the sun at its highest point at midday.
Wear light-coloured, loose-fitting, cotton clothes. Get a neck cover to go under your hard hat or improvise one with a (wetted) neckerchief. Other cooling bands can be purchased to provide a cooling effect under your hard hat, as can sun shade fitments.
Take a paddling pool to work! A cheap paddling pool can help you revive in your breaks by paddling your feet in cooling water. Filled with a hose on site, or even a few buckets of water, a small pool can really help lower your body’s core temperature.
And, in the same way, running icy water over your wrists will cool you quite effectively. Take a flask of water with ice cubes in it to work and some kitchen towel to dry your hands afterwards. (Don’t risk wet, slippery hands while working on a roof).
Freezer packs in a pocket can help you to stay cool for longer, but ensure they are covered by fabric and not directly against the skin.
Take drinks packed in a cool box with freezer packs. Water is best for hydrating, but if you can’t face eating much, sipping a fruit juice or a fizzy drink can maintain blood sugar levels.
Eating heavy, rich foods raises body temperature so avoid those at lunchtime in favour of white protein such as chicken or fish and light fruits, vegetables and yoghurts.
Hand held fans can offer a quick cool down and can be taken on to the roof in a pocket.
Don’t ditch the PPE! Hard hats and hi-vis vests are a prerequisite in roofing. Gloves and safety footwear are often mandatory too. Where fall arrest PPE is stipulated it should always be worn. Don’t be tempted to take it off on the roof – instead have more frequent breaks so that you can remove it and have some temporary respite in that way.