In the construction industry, we face various safety barriers, highlighting the importance of implementing companywide rules, regulations, and safeguards at construction sites to protect our workers from accidents and injury.
Beyond the basic necessity of adequate equipment and communication methods, completing projects in extreme heat presents the need for heat and illness provisions. Understanding the possible effects of working in hot weather and creating a specific action plan to avoid and handle the environmental and personal risk factors for heat illness is essential to maintaining worker health. Every company can implement best practices with ongoing training on environmental and personal risk factors for heat illness, equipping their staff with the ability to recognize symptoms such as heavy sweating, cramps, weakness, and dizziness.
The following are four crucial Heat Illness Prevention elements for any company to incorporate in their efforts to keep construction workers safe during the summer heat.
Provisions for water
One of the chief areas of importance when combatting the summer heat is ensuring that staff is well equipped with various methods to stay hydrated throughout the day. Mild dehydration can impair a person's ability to concentrate, and as little as 1% loss in body weight due to fluid deficiency can impair short-term memory. On outdoor job sites during the summer, we address the heat with a variety of responses, including ice pops, water bottles, water stations, and water coolers. These are abundant to provide hydration, electrolytes, and a cooling effect and are available to everyone on the site, especially our outdoor field staff.
In desert climates, such as job sites in Arizona, encourage workers to drink water more frequently. Supervisors can implement simple practices such as placing water coolers as close as possible to where the work will be done and implementing an hourly reminder to drink fluids. For example, at a data center project outside of Nashville, TN, there are coolers with water bottles and ice throughout the job site, and a water machine at the entrance so workers can fill up on arrival and departure. Cold-water stations are also sprinkled around the site to reduce the use of plastic bottles. In addition to water, consider stocking up on drinks or ice pops that contain electrolytes such as sports drinks, coconut water, and hydration powders. This summer alone, Rosendin has purchased over 9,000 popsicles for our workers.
Commercial construction jobs can be challenging as workers are performing tasks in partial structures such as high-rise buildings, arenas, healthcare centers, and renewable energy facilities all across America. To reduce work-related heat illness during extreme heat, every company should require employees to undergo training to recognize heat illness, use prevention methods, and understand their region’s required Heat Illness Prevention Standards and OSHA regulations. This should include having project teams undergo safety orientation training that includes identifying and responding to heat-related illnesses.
We also encourage all contractors on a job site to work together to actively watch for these symptoms and heat-related issues in workers. These procedures have been created to help our teams and subcontractors understand the dangerous implications of working in hot conditions and how to use heat illness prevention procedures to reduce the risk of work-related heat illnesses among our employees.
Working during a heatwave can be challenging, especially for people who are not used to it, for example, if they moved from a cooler climate. It is important to let a worker’s body adjust to the heat by limiting exposure in the beginning and encouraging them to take more breaks and hydrate. For these workers, it’s good practice to allow them to start earlier in the day when temperatures are cooler and schedule the heaviest work activities during this time, leaving less physically demanding work for hotter parts of the day.
When working on heated job sites, if a newly assigned employee is designated to an area where the ambient temperature reaches 80°F or more, they should be closely observed for alertness and signs or symptoms of heat illness. It is also a good idea to limit the new employee to 8-hour shifts for the first four (4) days and not assign overtime until the employee has acclimated to the work environment, providing new employees the opportunity to adapt to the climate. We also encourage people to use the buddy system or regular communication via cell phone to monitor people’s health.
Access to shade and high-heat procedures
Access to shade with open air or ventilation such as fans or cooling mists is important. Once temperatures reach over 95°F, consider implementing extra breaks for the team. For hot weather areas, companies can add A/C lunch tents and cooling trailers with fans and mist to mitigate overheating. In extreme heat conditions, companies can train supervisors to observe employees for alertness and signs or symptoms of heat illness by implementing a mandatory buddy system and increasing breaks and recovery rest periods, for example.
Rosendin relies on thousands of craft workers to safely complete some of the largest commercial construction projects in the country and has made it an ongoing mission to equip them with the skills and resources necessary to recognize and prevent harm of any kind.
On Rosendin’s job sites in Arizona, where temperatures frequently break 100°F in the summertime, we provide specially designed cooling trailers, which run off a large portable generator-powered air conditioning unit. These are particularly helpful in our renewable energy projects, which are in remote areas with little natural shade. These trailers open up to the air stream and have been instrumental in providing employees a place to cool down, recharge, and get hydrated before returning back to work where there is no shade. Employees can sit next to the unit to cool down at any time if they get overheated. We also encourage Foremen to have mobile pop-up tents and shaded areas strategically sprinkled throughout the site. At our Tennessee job site, we also uniquely equip workers with special cooling shirts with high visibility colors, so they don’t have to layer safety vests on top of clothing.
Employees deserve a safe working environment where they can make a living for themselves and their families. While the heat is an unavoidable element to consider in any construction projects taking place during the summer, knowing how to avoid the implications of hot conditions, as well as handle symptoms if and when they arise, is critical to a well-rounded safety plan to protect workers. Implementing corporate policies and training such as these will significantly diminish job site heat hazards and involve employees and subcontract employees in every aspect of safety.