As if construction work was not hazardous enough, when summer arrives and brings record temperatures, workers must take extra precautions to prevent heat-related illnesses. Although it might be difficult to escape the heat during a hot summer day, preventing heat stress is possible. The key is taking action before it becomes a problem.
Preventing heat stress among your workers starts with proper awareness, and that starts the day an employee is hired. As part of your orientation, educate new hires on the various types of heat stress, including heat exhaustion, heat cramps and heat stroke. You should also encourage your workers to look for the warning signs of heat-related illness for themselves and their colleagues, possibly by instituting a formal buddy system.
In addition to being on the lookout for usual signs of heat stress — headaches, dizziness, weakness, mood changes, queasiness, vomiting, pale and clammy skin and fainting — workers should know where to get help when a co-worker is suffering from heat stress.
Education about heat stress must be consistent and continue after orientation, otherwise workers might not remember everything they were taught. Furthermore, everyone on a job site should be knowledgeable about the hazards of heat stress. Training should not be limited to hourly employees, but should also be required for foremen, supervisors and subcontractors.
Many construction workers ignore the seriousness of heat stress. This is why it’s important that supervisors start each day by reminding workers how to protect themselves from the heat.
If at all possible, try to schedule workdays around the sun’s peak times. Start projects early in the day before the sun peaks, and if forced to work into the afternoon, encourage frequent breaks.
Certain types of personal protective equipment can make the summer months more bearable for outdoor workers. For example, dark-colored safety glasses offer more protection from the glare of the sun than do light-colored glasses; full-brimmed hardhats provide better coverage than front-brimmed hats; and light-colored clothes with sleeves and a collar offer additional sun protection. You could also hand out sunscreen and encourage it to be liberally applied throughout the day.
Prevention and awareness are the keys to developing heat stress prevention policies. But the most important thing you can do is to not wait for something to happen before taking action.