With longer daylight hours and warmer weather, summer is the prime building season across the country. You don’t have to combat the constant rain of spring or the frozen ground of winter. It’s also a time for construction companies to find more interested seasonal workers to hire larger teams to accommodate for larger construction projects.
However, longer hours in the sunlight and rising temperatures means your team will be working for extended periods of time in the heat, increasing the hazards that come along with summer weather. Heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke are all significant dangers that construction foremen, supervisors, and managers need to be aware of to keep all employees safe.
Outdoor Construction Workers are at a Higher Risk for Heat-Related Illnesses
Due to the nature of the job, employees working at outdoor job sites are exposed to the elements. For most of the United States, the warmest days of the year occur sometime between mid-July and mid-August. That’s right in the middle of many building projects.
With the extent of the physical labor required at the job site in combination with the temperature, humidity, sunlight exposure, and in some cases, lack of wind, thousands of workers suffer from heat-related illnesses each year. Roofing projects in particular are dangerous with temperatures on these surfaces reaching higher than 150°F. 50%-70% of outdoor fatalities occur in the first few days of working in hot environments due to the body’s need to build a heat tolerance gradually.
Monitor Outdoor Construction Workers for These Heat-Related Disorders
It’s essential to be aware of the risks for the heat-related disorders that are up against your employees. Below are the top three.
Categorized as the most serious heat-related disorder, heat stroke occurs as a result of prolonged exposure to or physical exertion in high temperatures, increasing internal body temperatures to 104°F or higher. This heat injury requires emergency treatment. If untreated, heat stroke can damage the brain, heart, kidneys, and muscles, sometimes resulting in death.
Symptoms of heat stroke include:
- High body temperature
- Altered mental state or behavior
- Alteration in sweating
- Nausea or vomiting
- Flushed skin
- Rapid breathing
- Racing heart rate
If you believe one of your employees is suffering from heat stroke, call 911 and take immediate action to cool the overheated person. You can bring them indoors where there is A/C or move them to a shaded area. Remove excess clothing and cool the person with whatever means available, whether that is with ice, cool water from a hose, or pouring cold water bottles onto towels and laying them on the person’s head, neck, armpits, and groin.
This mid-level heat-related injury occurs when the body overheats due to high temperature exposure (sometimes combined with high humidity and physical exertion). Without proper treatment, heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke, mentioned above.
Symptoms of heat exhaustion include:
- Cool, moist skin
- Heavy sweating
- Weak and rapid pulse
- Muscle cramps
If someone on the job site is experiencing heat exhaustion, have them stop all activity and rest in a cooler location (like a shaded area or indoors with A/C). Have them drink cool water or a sports drink. If symptoms worsen or don’t improve within one hour, seek immediate medical attention and follow the steps above for heat stroke.
Because of the high level of physical activity on a construction site, workers may experience painful, involuntary muscle spasms—more intense and prolonged than your typical nighttime charley horse. Fluid loss due to high temperatures and electrolyte loss due to intense exercise contribute to heat cramps.
If you suspect your construction workers are experiencing heat cramps, have them briefly rest and cool down. They should drink clear juice or an electrolyte solution like a sports drink. Massaging the cramping area also helps the affected muscles. The employee should not resume strenuous activity for several hours after the heat cramps occur. If symptoms do not improve within one hour, they should call their doctor and make an appointment to be seen.
Improving Outdoor Construction Safety
Workers who are not fully acclimated to the hot weather, 65 years of age or older, are overweight, have heart disease or high blood pressure, or take certain medications are all at a greater risk for one of the heat-related illnesses above.
You can be directly responsible for keeping your outdoor contractors safe by:
- Increasing the number of workers per task need at the job site
- Offering air-conditioned/cooler areas for recovery times
- Having all foremen, supervisors, and managers trained in identifying heat-related symptoms
- Providing adequate amounts of cool, drinkable water
- Encouraging workers to hydrate frequently to the point of never becoming thirsty
- Telling contractors to wear light-colored, loose-fitting, breathable clothing as well as UV protected glasses and brimmed headwear
- Planning for those on the job sites to do the hardest work in the morning when it’s coolest
- Implementing a buddy system where co-workers keep an eye on each other to identify early symptoms of heat-related illnesses
By educating yourself and your employees on the causes and symptoms of heat stroke, heat exhaustion, and heat cramps, your team will be more prepared to identify and prevent these heat-related illnesses from occurring on your job sites. In turn, this makes outdoor work for your contractors safer, allowing you to beat the heat.
If you’re looking for a partner who values relationships with their clients as much as you value the safety of your employees, contact GALBRAITH/Pre-Design, Inc today. We look forward to working with you on your next commercial, industrial, or institutional design-build project.
As co-owner of Galbraith/Pre-Design, Inc., Mark Galbraith is responsible for the construction of commercial facilities in nine states. Continuing his family’s tradition of commercial and industrial construction in south central Pennsylvania and beyond, Mark’s experience includes site analysis and selection, pre-construction services, field engineering and project management.