Be Proactive and Aware When Working in the Summer Heat
The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center predicts a hotter-than-normal summer for 2017. The Builders urges all members of the construction industry to stay diligent about heat-related dangers this summer.
Heat-related illnesses affect people of all ages and can be a matter of life and death. Heat stress occurs when the air temperature is close to or warmer than normal body temperature. When this happens, the body cannot regulate itself by sweating, so the body’s core temperature and heart rate rises to critical levels.
Exposure to extreme heat can also affect a worker mentally, and increases the risk of injuries on the job site. The rapid onset of fatigue can make workers less alert, and cause confusion and distraction that lead to mistakes and accidents. According to OSHA, 2,630 workers suffered from heat illness and 18 died from heat stroke and related causes on the job in 2014.
The good news is that all heat-related illnesses and deaths are preventable. But this means that everyone – from Foremen and Superintendents to every crew member - needs to do their part by protecting themselves and each other from heat exposure. Always side with caution when evaluating symptoms and when in doubt, seek medical attention.
Recognize the Symptoms of Heat Illness
Heat rash is a skin irritation caused by sweat that does not evaporate from the skin. It’s the least serious and most common problem in hot work environments and usually appears as a cluster of red bumps on the neck, upper chest, or folds of the skin.
Heat cramps are caused by the loss of body salts and fluid during sweating after strenuous activity. Sweating depletes the body’s salt and moisture levels in muscles, which causes painful cramps.
Heat exhaustion is the body's response to loss of water and salt from heavy sweating. Signs include headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, irritability, thirst, and heavy sweating.
Immediate treatment options for heat rash, cramps, exhaustion:
- Rest in a cool, shaded area
- Hydrate with water or beverages with electrolytes, like Gatorade
- Apply cold compresses or ice packs
- Seek medical attention if symptoms don’t stop within an hour
Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness, is considered a medical emergency, and can result in death. Heat stroke happens when the body becomes unable to regulate its core temperature. Sweating stops and the body can no longer rid itself of excess heat. Major body organs can shut down, causing acute heart, liver, kidney, and muscle damage, nervous system problems, and blood disorders. Symptoms include confusion, loss of consciousness, and seizures. Immediate treatment for heat stroke is to call 911 and seek immediate medical attention.
Here are some strategies that all of our members can employ to stay safe in the heat:
Stay hydrated – on high heat days workers should ingest water every 15 minutes. Dehydration can begin before thirst occurs, so it’s best to drink a steady supply of fluids whether the worker feels thirsty or not. A general rule of thumb is a quart of water per hour. Avoid sugary drinks like sodas and coffee with caffeine, which can increase dehydration.
Keep up with the heat index on weather forecasts - humidity intensifies the effects of heat. The heat index takes into account both temperature and humidity to provide a more accurate measure of how hot it feels than just the temperature alone. Anything over 90 degrees on the heat index and you’ll need to take extra precautions to stay safe.
OSHA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) have created an app for both Android phones and iPhones, which allows a user to calculate the heat index for their worksite. It also displays a risk level to outdoor workers. For more information or to download the app visit: https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatillness/heat_index/heat_app.html
Schedule heavy work for the coolest times of the day – take advantage of cooler temperatures in the morning and evening. And if possible try to avoid working in direct sunlight during the hottest parts of the day.
Dress appropriately – wear lightweight and light-colored clothing that allows for airflow. Hats and a cooling neck bandanna can also help on high heat days.
Allow acclimation time – as temperatures rise, schedule time to acclimate to the intensifying heat. New workers to a jobsite should gradually build up their tolerance to the heat.
Establish an emergency plan - employees and supervisors should know the warning signs of heat-related illness and how to respond to each situation. Make sure that workers immediately report any incidents to supervisors. And be aware of the jobsite location and the nearest medical facilities in case of an emergency.
Construction workers account for one-third of all heat-related deaths annually. Don’t be a statistic. Remember that prevention is the best way to avoid any heat illness.