Construction workers are exposed to a number of hazards, from falling objects to chemical substances. However, as summer arrives with its scorching temperatures, workers face a risk that is not only difficult to escape, but often overlooked altogether – heat stress. The main components in preventing heat stress are recognizing the risk and taking action long before it becomes an issue.
Begin by making sure all your workers, including subcontractors, foremen, site supervisors, and hourly employees, are properly aware of the risk from the day they’re hired on. Information on the various types of heat stress, such as heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke, should be part of your orientation process for all new hires. Be sure to educate employees on the warning signs of heat stress, such as headache; weakness; mood changes; nausea and vomiting; dizziness; queasiness; fainting; and pale, clammy skin. Encourage workers to periodically assess themselves and their co-workers for any of the signs of heat stress. You might even create a formal buddy system to encourage awareness and the addressing of any incident of heat stress. Workers should be informed how and where they should seek help for themselves or a co-worker suffering from a heat illness.
Of course, such heat stress education must continue beyond orientation. Unless periodically readdressed, workers could forget the signs or what to do in response to heat illnesses. It’s also important that workers are reminded by their supervisors on a daily basis to protect themselves from the heat, as a lot of construction workers seem to think they are impervious to the serious impact heat has on the body.
Whenever possible, it may be prudent to schedule working hours to avoid the hot peaks of the sun. For example, the work day can start early in the morning, break while the sun peaks, and resume in the afternoon. If flexible work schedules aren’t a possibility, then be sure to encourage frequent breaks and hydration. You might also provide your workers with sunscreen.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) can help your outdoor workers tolerate the heat better. For example, you might replace front-brimmed hardhats with full-brimmed hardhats; light-colored glasses with darker safety glasses; and heavy and dark clothes with clothes that have a sleeve, collar, and are of a light weight and color.
Don’t let the sun come down on you and your employees before you take action. Remember, workers being aware of the serious risks that the sun presents and how to protect themselves will be the keys to a successful heat stress prevention policy.