Summer may be winding down, but in many regions, the heat hasn’t fully subsided yet. No one likes the feeling of being out in the hot sun for hours or of getting in your car after it’s been sitting in the heat all day. Now, imagine having to work in those conditions all day, every day. That’s, unfortunately, the nature of many industrial or manual labor jobs, such as in construction, that are either outside in exposed areas or in warehouses or factories without air conditioning.
Especially in the summer months, working hard all day in hot environments is not only difficult, but it also has the potential to become dangerous. As of 2016, statistics have shown an average of 13 deaths and over 750 heat-related illnesses per year in the construction industry alone, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. With the threat of extreme temperatures harming workers and decreasing productivity, employers need to know how to protect their employees and subcontractors from the heat. Here are four ways to minimize the workplace risks caused by extreme heat:
PROVIDE SAFETY-RELATED AMENITIES
An easy way to help workers is to provide options that allow them a reprieve from the sun and heat. This could include equipping all jobsites with shade tents to be used during breaks and, of course, providing ample water for employees throughout the day. Some innovative products, such as hard hat cooling pads, cooling vests, and tents with UV protection can also help to keep the effects of heat from becoming problematic.
On extremely hot days it may also be necessary to have shorter periods of work and more frequent periods of rest, insuring that workers have ample time to drink fluids and recuperate between shifts. If you can control the time schedule for each day of the build, try to start earlier in the day before the heat escalates, and schedule in more breaks during the peak temperature hours of 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.
RECOGNIZE AND WATCH FOR THE SIGNS OF HEAT ILLNESS
There are many different types of heat illness, such as heat stroke, heat exhaustion, or even heat cramps, and they each have an array of symptoms. Common signs of heat illness are excessive sweating, thirst, and irritability, but other symptoms, such as confusion, vomiting, fainting, or even seizures, can indicate a more serious matter. Both employers and workers should know what to look for so they can catch an illness before it progresses to a dangerous condition. Train all staff regularly as to what the warning signs of heat illness look like, and put up posters that outline these symptoms in prominent areas of the jobsite to make sure none of those warning signs are missed.
Keep a special eye on new employees and subcontractors who may not have worked in extreme heat conditions before or those who have exhibited one or more symptoms related to heat illness in the past. Some people are naturally more susceptible to heat than others, and it’s good for supervisors to know who they are and pay more attention to how they’re doing.
EDUCATE EMPLOYEES ON PROTECTION FROM AND PREVENTION OF HEAT-RELATED ILLNESS
Aside from employer-provided amenities and knowing how to recognize a heat illness, workers need to know how to protect themselves from the heat. Perhaps most crucial to staying healthy in the heat is drinking a substantial amount of cool water throughout the day—and to not wait until thirsty. Encourage workers to stay hydrated and to avoid other drinks that could contribute to dehydration, like coffee, soda, and alcohol.
Employees’ clothing can have an impact on their well-being in the heat, too. Loose-fitting, light-colored clothing made of a breathable material like cotton will not trap heat and amplify its effects like dark or heavy materials might. Wearing a hat or bandana is highly recommended to protect the head from getting direct sunlight. Sunscreen is never a bad idea either, as it can protect the skin and prevent sun rashes and sun poisoning. Remind employees to pay close attention to the weather and to dress appropriately on hot days.
Employees who don’t have experience working in the heat should give their bodies time to acclimate. Start a new employee working in shorter stints with frequent breaks in between, and over the next week or so, have them work up to longer periods of work before a break. Our bodies are capable of adjusting to the combination of heat and strenuous activity, but it is a gradual process.
CREATE A PLAN THAT OUTLINES WHAT TO DO IN AN EMERGENCY
Even with multiple prevention methods in use, there can be trouble as the mercury rises. Make sure there is a plan in place for workers to easily report symptoms of heat illness. Once an employee says something, it’s crucial that action is taken quickly.
Best practices call for all workers to be educated on what steps to take if heat illness symptoms get to the point of emergency so that someone can help as quickly as possible. Your plan should outline information such as: who to report to when a worker isn’t feeling well, how to know when there’s a true emergency that requires medical attention, where the nearest phone is at every jobsite, and how to care for someone who is exhibiting symptoms of a heat illness until a medic can get to the site.
The plan should be given, in writing, to every employee that will be present on a construction site, and they should be trained on it frequently. For more information on what an emergency response plan should look like and procedures for how to care for each heat-related condition, check out the OSHA’s Heat Illness Prevention Campaign at www.osha.gov/heat/.
Each and every worker who is exposed to heat conditions needs to have comprehensive knowledge of how to help themselves and their co-workers who may suffer from a heat illness, as well as how to prevent it altogether. Moreover, employers need to do all they can to protect their workers. Not only can medical emergencies like these be disruptive to workflow and productivity, but they can also lead to serious illness or even death. A little heat isn’t worth all that stress.
About the author:
Based in Birmingham, Alabama, Burns Parker is a vice president of Fisher Brown Bottrell Insurance, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Trustmark National Bank. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205.919.3396. Visit Fisher Brown Bottrell Insurance at www.fbbins.com.
Modern Contractor Solutions, September2018
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