There is no shortage of jobs for construction workers during the summer months. Unfortunately, this is also one of the most dangerous times of year to be a construction worker. As temperatures continue rising each year, the risk of heat-related illness becomes even more serious at construction sites. Unfortunately, heat-related illness can have serious consequences, and in many situations, can even result in death.
According to a report by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), 285 construction workers died from heat-related illness between 1992 and 2016. This accounts for over one third of all heat-related occupational fatalities in the United States during this time period. Unfortunately, this figure has been rising in recent years along with the spike in average summer temperatures. In addition, countless other construction workers suffer nonfatal heat-related illnesses each year.
Construction work is extremely labor intensive and physically demanding. This often causes the body to generate excessive levels of heat. This can be extremely problematic during the summer, when air temperatures make it challenging for the body to shed this heat and maintain a healthy core temperature.
In addition, there are several other factors which compound with the air temperature and the body heat generated from construction work to increase the likelihood of heat-related illness:
Due to the serious consequences associated with heat-related illnesses and the elevated risk faced by construction workers, it is crucial that you implement a heat-related illness prevention plan at your construction company. The following items should be included in your efforts.
While construction workers are used to the rigors of the job, their bodies are not used to performing these tasks in extreme heat at the start of summer. Therefore, it is crucial that you create a plan to get your employees acclimatized to working in these hot temperatures. This process should span roughly two weeks to give your construction workers’ bodies time to fully adapt to the heat.
Acclimatization provides important benefits which allow you to cool your body more effectively:
Intense activity should be limited during the first few days of acclimatization. When intense activity is required, make sure it is completed during the coolest time of the day (typically early in the morning). Gradually increase workloads each day as workers’ bodies begin to adapt to strenuous work in hot temperatures. Use the following guidelines for ramping up workloads:
Make sure all employees are monitored throughout the acclimatization period since the risk of heat-related illness is significantly higher before their bodies fully adapt to hot working conditions.
It is important to understand that the outside temperature is not the only factor impacting a construction worker’s risk of heat-related illness. Humidity, wind speed, sun angle and cloud coverage also contribute to conditions which may make workers more susceptible to heat injuries. The wet bulb globe temperature index (WBGT) provides you with a measurement which factors in all these elements and provides the most accurate assessment of risk.
The most effective way to assess risk is to purchase a WBGT measurement device. You can use the OSHA Heat Stress Calculator to determine whether your construction workers’ heat stress exceeds recommended limits. If it does, postpone all non-urgent work until the WBGT reading drops below recommended limits of heat stress. In addition, increase the number of hydration and rest breaks for workers during these moments of peak heat conditions.
If you are unable to gain access to a WBGT measurement device, you can use the OSHA Outdoor WBGT Calculator to estimate the heat stress risks for your current environmental conditions. While this method is less accurate than a WBGT measurement device, it will still provide you with a good estimate of the current risk of heat-related illness. You can also download the OSHA-NIOSH Heat App to estimate the risk associated with current conditions.
Make sure to provide an abundant supply of cool drinking water to your construction workers throughout the day. This water should be easily accessible on the construction site at all times. In general, workers should drink 8 oz. of water every 15-20 minutes. In situations of prolonged sweating spanning several hours, sports drinks containing electrolytes should be mixed in with water. Avoid providing beverages containing caffeine since these may increase dehydration.
One way to make sure employees are properly hydrated is to have them monitor their urine color and frequency throughout their shift. Clear or light yellow urine indicates proper hydration. However, dark yellow urine or very infrequent urinating may indicate a construction worker is dehydrated.
Once temperatures exceed 80°F, encourage workers to take more frequent breaks. Make sure to provide a break area that contains adequate shade to allow workers a respite from the bruising sun. In addition, these shaded break areas should contain a cooling system to help workers lower their core body temperature. Outdoor evaporative coolers provide one of the most effective cooling solutions for construction sites.
Most of the clothing and personal protective equipment commonly worn by construction workers traps heat close to the skin and limits the body’s ability to cool itself via sweating. To avoid this, construction workers should wear clothing made from breathable fabrics such as cotton instead of non-breathable synthetic materials. Lighter colors are preferable to darker colors since dark clothing absorbs more of the heat.
Make sure you create an emergency response plan to be followed in the event of heat-related illness. Currently, 28 states have OSHA-approved state plans. If your employees work in these states, make sure your response plan is in compliance with these state regulations. If you are not in one of these states, it is still important to develop a comparable plan to ensure construction workers have safe working conditions.
All employees at the construction site should be trained on how to react when signs of heat-related illness appear. This plan should outline every step to take in these situations, including:
Providing an effective cooling solution at construction sites is one of the most important steps you can take to reduce the risk of heat-related illness. Portacool evaporative coolers provide industry leading cooling power that will keep your construction workers safe.
With an extensive line of evaporative coolers for outdoor work environments, Portacool has a solution that will address the specific needs of your construction site. All our evaporative coolers are made locally at our Center, Texas manufacturing facility, and they come equipped with best-in-class warranties.
You can use our online tool to find the right Portacool for your specific needs.