Hot weather has hit most parts of the country and it’s going to get worse as summer wears on. Working on a construction site during the heat of the summer, with asphalt that can reach temperatures of 300°F or more, can result in serious illness or even death. Workers exposed to extreme heat may experience symptoms of heat-related illnesses (HRI), such as heat cramps, heat rash, heat exhaustion, fainting, heat stroke and other symptoms.
This is not news. If you’ve been doing this job long, you know how harsh hot days can be. According to the Department of Occupational Safety and Health, heat-related illness is also linked to injuries from falls, equipment operation accidents and other on-the-job incidents. Such incidents can happen when someone with heat stress becomes fatigued, dizzy, confused or disoriented.
Since heat can lead to other issues and potential incidents, and it can't be avoided when a job is on deadline, it is important that all of us working in the heat take care to avoid heat illness issues. Here are some hard-learned lessons to stay safe:
1. Hydrate: Drink plenty of proper fluids the night before a work day and continue to drink fluids (i.e., water or sport drinks with electrolytes) throughout the day.
2. Dress Appropriately: Engineered fabric athletic and recreational garments can reduce the heat load on the body. They offer trans-evaporative cooling, UV and insect protection. Also make sure to cover your head. A wide-brim hard hat will protect your face from the sun. Add a nape protector or wrap-around sun visor to maximize protection. Always use sun block on any exposed skin.
3. Take Care of Yourself: Eating a healthy meal and getting a good nights rest are two good ways for your body to be prepared for the taxing work ahead of it.
4. Don't Over Do It: In this heat, it's important to try and pace yourself and the crew, avoid prolonged strenuous exertion and take frequent breaks.
5. Know the Warning Signs: Heat related illnesses range in severity and are not something you should take lightly. The order of seriousness is:
a) Heat cramps - Usually from poor hydration; take it easy, drink water, put feet up.
b) Heat exhaustion – Knock off for the day, go someplace cool, rehydrate, rest.
c) Heat stroke – Call 911.
Employers should be sure workers are trained about the symptoms of heat-related illnesses and their prevention and always monitor workers for signs of illness.
OSHA has also released a free app for mobile devices that enables workers and supervisors to monitor the heat index at their jobsites. The app displays a risk level for workers based on the heat index, as well as reminders about protective measures that should be taken at that risk level. It can be downloaded by visiting http://1.usa.gov/1ig612y.
If at all possible, try to schedule work in the early morning or at night when temperatures aren't as bad. We know you have deadlines, but the health and safety of your crew is paramount to that. Stay safe out there!