Construction Worker Safety – How to Beat the Heat This Summer

Summer is practically here, and most of us are already feeling the heat.

In the Southeast, we know our way around a 95 degrees, 100 percent humidity day. With this in mind, we need to know how to keep our construction workers safe in the field.

As most of us know, working outside during the summer can increase the risk of dehydration, sunburn, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke. Along with these physical ailments, hot weather can lead to slowed cognitive function, which can impair judgment and reaction time (both of which are critical for workplace safety). 

Here are some proactive steps you can take to keep construction workers safe this summer:

Have a Heat Index Tool on Hand

According to Veronica S. Miller and Grhahm P. Bates, “Protection of the health of workers without unnecessarily compromising productivity requires the adoption of a heat index that is both reliable and easy to use.”

OSHA has created a free heat index app that can be used on Apple and Android devices. All you have to do is enter your location, and the app will input today’s temperature and calculate your workers’ risk. 

Hand-held tools with more robust data, like the Kestrel 3000HS Heat Stress Meter or the Pocket Heat Index Monitor, are also available. 

Note: Temperatures of 92 degrees and above are considered high risk. 

Avoid Dehydration

Dehydration is the fastest way to succumb to a heat stroke. Foremen should be sure there is ample water on hand at all times, and allow water breaks throughout the day.

Workers should aim to drink a gallon of water a day. A great way for supervisors to promote hydration is to provide gallon water bottles/jugs to all field workers.

Workers should also try to avoid eating salty, high-calorie foods during workdays as these can contribute to dehydration. 

Know the Warning Signs of Heat-Related Illnesses

The CDC lists the following warning signs for heat exhaustion:

  • Heavy sweating 
  • Cold, pale, and clammy skin
  • Fast, weak pulse
  • Nausea or vomiting • Muscle cramps 
  • Tiredness or weakness 
  • Dizziness 
  • Headache 
  • Fainting (passing out)

The following symptoms are warning signs of a heat stroke:

  • High body temperature (103°F or higher)
  • Hot, red, dry, or damp skin 
  • Inability to drink
  • Fast, strong pulse
  • Headache
  •  Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Losing consciousness (passing out)

Plan for Emergencies 

Crew members should be trained and prepared for heat-related illnesses. 

If one of your team members is suffering from heat exhaustion, move that person into the shade while you get the AC running in a vehicle. Have your worker take off heavy clothing like jackets, long sleeve shirts, tool belts, and helmets (if you are in a safe area). 

Have a cooler full of ice and wet washcloths on site. Placing the cold cloths on your neck and wrists will help bring your body temperature down.

We also recommend having a thermometer on hand to check the temperature of a crew member who becomes ill (remember: the core body temperature of someone suffering from a heat stroke is 103 degrees or above). 

If someone is displaying the symptoms listed above for a heat stroke, particularly fainting, confusion, seizures, or inability to drink, seek medical assistance immediately. 

By taking steps prevention, knowing the warning signs of heat-related illness, and having a course of action in place in case of an emergency will keep construction workers safer during the grueling summer months.