Construction Risk Factors for Heat Illness
Some factors make certain construction workers more prone to heat illness than others. Workers and supervisors should take special precautions to keep themselves and their coworkers protected from heat illness. Yes, everybody wants to believe they’re too tough for the sun, but everybody has their limits!
Heat Illness Construction Risk Factors:
Prior cases of heat illness
Preventable Heat Illness Construction Risk Factors:
Low liquid consumption
Inadequate clothing (dark, heavy, waterproof)
Construction Heat Safety Tips
While we can’t control the sun, we can control how we protect ourselves from it. These simple heat safety tips can help prevent sun illness at the construction site to keep you and your coworkers safe and protected.
1. Drink lots of fluids.
One of the ways your body regulates its temperature is by sweating. The massive puddles of sweat you leave behind when working all day in the sweltering heat are basically signs that your body’s internal HVAC system is working fine. However, because you’re sweating out these massive amounts of liquid, your body needs to replace it. Otherwise, you won’t be able to keep cooling down and it becomes increasingly likely that you will succumb to heat illness.
Electrolytes leave your body with your sweat. Since they’re responsible for keeping you functioning optimally, it’s pretty important to replenish them if you want to keep your internal HVAC doing its job.
Drinking lots of water and sports energy drinks can be a great way to hydrate yourself and cool down your inner body temperature. Sports energy drinks can help return needed electrolytes to your body to keep you going through the hot weather.
Dehydration can occur even when you think you are hydrating. Caffeine, alcohol, and some medications can cause dehydration, so you may have to put down that pick-me-up (or supplement it with some good, old-fashioned H2O). Yeah, a crisp beer can feel like heaven under the hot sun, but that glorious ale can actually contribute to further dehydration.
2. Wear sunscreen.
While sunscreen can provide immediate protection from UV rays, its effects hold even better long-term value. Avoiding skin damage from the sun can also protect you from skin cancer later in life. Besides, it’s definitely not fun to work while your skin is a blistering, painful mess. (The thought of wearing a safety harness while suffering from a sunburn is somewhat… horrifying.)
3. Cool down.
Keeping cool as a construction worker can be difficult when you’re under a deadline and trying to get a job done. However, with some careful steps, you can manage to keep cool—even under the summer sun.
The most obvious step can be to work when the sun is not at its strongest. Avoid intense labor during the peak hours of 12 to 3 PM (a good time to schedule lunch!). When possible, consider working through the night to remove the sun from the equation.
Wear light, loose, and breathable clothing so that you’re not contributing to the heat any more than you need to. You know how hot black asphalt can get thanks to the sun’s rays, so don’t turn your black shirt into a grill.
Keep ice water buckets filled with rags available for workers to use to cool down intermittently. Water on skin acts similarly to sweat. When it evaporates, it takes some of your body heat with it. A cold rag serves as a preventative measure, but can also be used to quickly cool people down if they are suffering from heat stroke. Whoever thought the ice bucket challenge could be practical?
4. Monitor yourself.
Remain mindful of how your body feels. If you feel sick, respond appropriately. Don’t be too proud to take a break or sit down. No one is going to call you tough when you’re passed out or throwing up at 2 PM on a Tuesday. If you have a FitBit or a similar device, keep track of your heart rate as the day goes on. If it seems abnormal, it probably is.
5. Look out for coworkers.
When you work in the summer heat, sometimes the effects of it can hit you when you least expect it. If one of your coworkers looks like they are going to be sick or fall over, do your best to make sure they do so safely and get the immediate help they need. If someone has fainted, call your supervisor or 911.
6. Wear proper protective gear.
On top of sunscreen, light clothing, a hat, and sunglasses, you should also be sure to use protective gear for the construction site itself. If you are going to work at an elevated height, use a harness. You can’t control when you faint, so it is good to know that if you fall, you won’t plummet 30 feet. Heights are scary enough without throwing heat illness into the mix!
7. Be aware of your surroundings.
Keep worksites clean and safe so that you or a coworker will be able to land safely if you faint. An exposed saw blade doesn’t make a comfy pillow.
Signs of Heat Illness for Construction Workers
Identifying the signs of a heat illness for construction workers can help save the lives of you or your friends and coworkers. The two types of heat illness are heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Heat Exhaustion Symptoms
Nausea or vomiting
Heat Stroke Symptoms
What to Do
In order to prevent heat illness on the construction site, one should create a heat illness prevention plan to adhere to in the summer months. A break station with shade, ice water, cool rags, and fans can allow construction workers a space to recuperate during the day.
Training sessions can help provide you and your coworkers the information they need to take necessary precautions and identify heat illness on the jobsite. If possible, keep work schedules out of peak sun hours. Always be sure to have ample cold liquids and remain on the alert for signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
If you see that someone has fallen ill from the heat, call your supervisor or 911. If you are sure they haven’t broken anything, move the worker to a cooler area. Cool them down the best you can by removing extra clothing and using a fan and water to reduce their body temperature. If they can ingest it, give them water or a sports drink to sip on and replenish their fluids.
The summer months are a busy and lucrative time for construction workers. However, those same beautiful, sunny days can quickly turn dangerous if the proper measures aren’t taken to avoid heat illness.