Summer Construction Safety Tips

Heat Stress Safety Tips

Summer construction projects can be some of the most hazardous of the year, even when working indoors. While summer work comes with a number of risks, OSHA offers several safety tips to help you and your crew reduce the risk of heat stress.

Knowing the warning signs

Knowing the signs of heat-related illness lets your team members keep an eye on one another and apply prompt treatment, if necessary. OSHA notes the two most hazardous are heat stroke and heat exhaustion.

• Heat stroke: This life-threatening condition occurs when the body can no longer regulate its core temperature and is unable to rid itself of excess heat. Symptoms include confusion, seizures, and loss of consciousness. OSHA suggests moving the worker to a cool, shaded area, and seeking immediate medical

• Heat exhaustion: This condition results from heavy sweating that leads to excessive water loss. Signs include headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, heavy sweating, and thirst. OSHA recommends having the worker rest in a comfortable, shady area, cooling the body with ice packs, and seeking medical attention

Being aware of hazards

A number of hazards can make working in the summer heat even more brutal and risky. These include:

• Extremely high temperatures

• High humidity

• Prolonged sun and other exposures to heat

• Demanding workloads

• Clothing, personal protective equipment or other personal risk factors, such as health conditions

OSHA recommends reviewing these factors on a regular basis to help ensure each worker remains as safe as possible. The National Weather Service Heat Index and OSHA’s Heat Safety Tool app can be helpful tools to use. Another is a Wet Bulb Globe Temperature, which looks at temperature, wind speed, cloud cover, and humidity to measure heat stress in direct sun.

Providing water, rest, and shade

OSHA recommends workers drink at least one cup of water every 15 minutes, or about one quart per hour. Caffeine and alcohol can contribute to dehydration, so drinks like coffee, iced tea, and soda pop should be avoided while working in hot environments. Fully shaded rest areas are another essential safety element, allowing workers to cool down when needed.

Ensuring proper heat tolerance

The human body needs to build tolerance to working in hot temperatures. OSHA recommends doing this with a gradual increase in exposure and workloads, along with plenty of water and breaks in the shade. It can take up to two weeks for a person’s body to properly acclimate to working in the heat. OSHA outlines the following schedule for new workers, as well as any employees working through a heat wave:

• New employees, or those returning to work after an extended absence, should take on no more than 20 percent of the workload for their first day, increasing their workload by 20 percent each day moving forward

• Even experienced workers may need to reduce their workloads during heat waves or rapid temperature increases. OSHA says workers should take on no more than 50 percent of the workload during the first day of the heat increase, working up to 60 percent on day two, 80 percent on the third day, and the full workload by day four

Modifying schedules

Adapting construction schedules to avoid prolonged exposure to heat is another way OSHA recommends keeping workers safe. Tips include:

• Arranging the most physically demanding work for cooler periods and the least demanding for warmer times of the day

• Moving any non-essential outdoor work to days with a lower heat index

• Splitting shifts and rotating workers, adding extra employees if necessary

• Halting work when the risk of heat illness is extremely high

While mornings can be cooler than afternoons, they are typically more humid. Getting an earlier than usual start can also contribute to worker fatigue.

Having a hot weather plan in place

An overall plan to keep workers safe consists of several elements. These include:

• Training: OSHA suggests training workers to understand the risks and effects of heat, how to spot, respond to, and prevent heat illnesses.

• Monitoring: Using the buddy system can help workers monitor one another for signs of heat illness, reporting any signs to the supervisor.

• Emergency plan: An emergency plan outlines actions workers should take when they recognize the signs of heat illnesses, including how and when to call for emergency help.

While summer construction work does come with hazards, OSHA’s recommendations can help ensure you and your workers remain safe when the temperatures rise.

Stefan Trask is the Web Content Editor at Northern Safety. During his time at Northern Safety, Stefan has written and edited video scripts, product content, and articles.

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