Workwear to protect against ultraviolet radiation

What workwear will help to protect my workers from ultraviolet radiation and heat stress while working outdoors or in a hot environment?

Answered by Chris Miller, director of marketing, Ironclad Performance Wear Corp., El Segundo, CA.

Increasing awareness of the dangers of UV radiation and heat-related illnesses has highlighted the importance of workwear that can offer protection to your workers.

Although almost any material will offer some degree of increased protection from harmful UV radiation, it is important to choose a garment that actually has a UV protection factor rating – just as you're used to seeing on sunscreen packaging. When a fabric has been designed and tested for its UV protection level, you can be sure that your workers are afforded the type of protection you expect.

Protection against heat stress is best accomplished by helping the human body cool itself the way it does naturally: by allowing air flow and sweat evaporation to proceed or even accelerate. A worker who sweats heavily while wearing a cotton shirt will soon find that as the cotton fabric becomes saturated, the body's ability to regulate temperature is seriously diminished. Sweat no longer has anywhere to go because the cotton shirt is absorbing very little and likely is plastered to the worker's skin. The layer of sweat builds, and – instead of performing its intended function of cooling – it acts as insulation, keeping heat in. At the same time, the now sweat-soaked fabric is offering almost zero ventilation because the spaces between the threads are filled with moisture so air has a difficult time going through. This means airflow to the skin has been drastically decreased at the very time it is needed most, adding to the problem.

Performance workwear designed to keep a worker cool, dry and comfortable should utilize moisture-wicking fabrics to draw sweat away from the skin. The fibers in the fabric actually transport the sweat away from the skin to the outside air where it can evaporate. An advanced material actually can accelerate the cooling process by speeding the cooling effect of removing sweat from the surface of the skin. Performance workwear also should be designed to allow for improved air flow over conventional designs. These moisture-wicking fabrics transport the sweat along the threads themselves, which allows the cooling air to continue to flow through the spaces between. Ventilation panels located in strategic areas can dramatically improve this cooling effect and allow the worker to stay comfortable for a much longer period of time.

Advanced fabrics and designs are available that offer high UPF ratings as well as very effective moisture transportation and ventilation features – all in clothing that feels more comfortable than soft cotton. By choosing the right workwear for the environment and the job, you can decrease the chances of UV radiation damage and heat-related illness while improving comfort and energy levels.

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