Construction Heat Exposure - Safety Tips for Your Summer Jobsite

Posted by John Cofini on Wed, Jun 08, 2022 @ 02:22 PM

Protecting Construction Workers From Heat Exposure

The summer season is a busy time in construction. Warm weather not only means more projects, but longer hours and busier schedules. Although working outdoors in the summertime can be a safer, more positive experience, there are still inherent risks to be cautious of. This article discusses some heat-related construction exposures in the summertime and some safety tips to implement for your jobsite.

Heat Exposures in the Summertime

Winter is notorious for bringing greater exposure to construction workers. However, the summertime brings unique exposures to the jobsite as well.

The most common exposure experienced in the summertime is heat exposure. Labor intensive work combined with busy working hours can be a dangerous combination for thousands of construction employees across the country. In fact, according to the CDC, between 1992 and 2016, 285 construction workers died from heat related exposure. This number accounted for more than one-third of all heat related deaths in this timeframe.

More common are non-fatal heat related illnesses (HRI’s). Impaired thinking due to intensified heat exposure can cause dizziness, brain fog, fatigue and sweaty palms; all of which can affect a worker’s job performance. Between 2006 and 2017, a study in Washington examined the largest number of accepted claims in the construction industry from HRI’s, identifying a strong correlation to the third quarter months of July, August and September.

With global temperatures expected to continue rising, HRI claims and heat-related fatalities are likely to climb in the industry. Outside of 1998, 19 of the 20 hottest years on record have occurred since 2001. What can construction industry leaders do to protect their workers from heat-related exposures?

Safety Measures to Manage Heat Exposure

Although avoiding the hot summer heat is unlikely, there are effective methods of managing heat exposure.

One of the most important steps you can take to prevent heat-related illness is to wear appropriate clothing for a hot environment. Proper clothing and gear can adequately protect workers from sun exposure and prevent sweat evaporation. Generally speaking, avoid these clothing choices in the hot weather:

  • Thick, less permeable clothing
  • PPE & clothing that reduces sweat evaporation
  • Synthetic, non-breathable fabrics such as Nylon

On the contrary, synthetic sports apparel has become more popular among construction workers. It is recommended as a breathable clothing choice due to its composition of more breathable fabrics such as cotton and polyester.

In addition, make sure to wear proper sun protection. This includes both ample sunscreen and hats when safe to protect against sun protection.

Employer Recommendations to Manage Heat Exposure

Similarly, employers should take actions to manage heat-related exposures. Here are some key prevention tactics you can implement on your summer jobsite:

  1. Encourage Hydration: Adequate fluid intake is critical in hot weather. Some tips to implement:
    1. Provide easily accessible toilet facilities so workers do not avoid hydration.
    2. Advise employees to drink at least 1 cup of water every 15-20 minutes.
    3. Encourage hydrating with sports drinks to refuel electrolytes.
  2. Limit Heat Exposure: Proper rest allows for maximum output and reduced risk for heat related illness:
    1. Ensure frequent rest periods for rehydration and cooling.
    2. Schedule more strenuous work for cooler parts of the day/week.
    3. Modify work/rest schedules depending on the job.
  3. Reduce Heat Load: Managing workload can decrease body stress and better divide up hot weather work:
    1. Implement load assistance and mechanized equipment to reduce labor.
    2. Increase crew sizes to lessen individual workload.
    3. Reduce time worked and limit overtime hours for less-conditioned workers.
  4. Enhance Heat Tolerance: Acclimating workers to heat can help manage different skillsets and levels of stamina:
    1. Gradually increase time spent in hot environments over a 1-to-2-week period.
    2. New workers should spend limited time in heat compared to conditioned workers.
    3. Closely supervise employees until they are fully acclimated to the heat.

Implementing these tactics can not only prevent the risk of heat-related illnesses on the jobsite but can also save lives. Creating a heat alert program can also be a useful tactic to notify management and supervisors of proper strategies and tactics for hot weather construction.

Above all else, it’s important to understand the signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses and what to do in the event of an emergency. For a quick guide on managing acute heat-related illnesses and heat stroke, consult this OSHA quick card for an appropriate action plan.

For more assistance with protecting your jobsite and your employees this summer, consult with a BNC construction insurance agent today.

Tags: heat exposure