In yesterday's post we discussed cold weather safety, but believe it or not, we're headed back into hot weather season in some parts of the country. This means contractors, project managers and superintendents need to be very conscientious about the physical effects sun and heat can have on their employees.
The following information will help you prepare for hot weather projects. Protecting your employees from the effects of excessive sun exposure, heat, and dehydration will keep your project moving on schedule and can prevent unnecessary accidents. For more specific information about heat safety, visit the OSHA website.
What Are the Dangers of Heat and Sun Exposure?
The sun. The effects of sun exposure can be both short and long-term. On a hot day, employees are susceptible to heat exhaustion and heat stroke (more on those later), however long-term sun exposure can be harmful as well. Cumulative exposure to sunlight, which has ultra-violet (UV) radiation, can cause cancer. In order to protect employees' skin from sun damage, encourage employees to:
- Wear hats with wide, full brims.
- Wear light-colored, breathable clothes that cover as much of their skin as possible. Light colors reflect the sunlight, dark colors absorb it.
- Use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 and reapply every two hours.
- Only wear sunglasses that block 99% to 100% of both UVA and UVB rays.
- Avoid direct sun exposure as much as possible, especially between the hours of 10 and 4 when the sun's rays are the strongest.
Heat. Summer can be especially dangerous for those who work outside. Heat and humidity are a dangerous combination and can lead to a variety of heat-related illnesses; excessive heat exposure can even be fatal. In order to protect your workers:
- Provide ample sun protection in the form of shade tents or large covered work areas.
- Have workers take a short break in the shade every hour
- Encourage employees to wear loose-fitting breathable clothing, preferably made of cotton.
- Provide ample water. Employees should take small drinks of water on a regular basis to avoid dehydration
- Discourage excessive caffeine consumption as it is a diuretic and can contribute to dehydration.
Provide Adequate Shelter, Breaks and Water to Prevent Heat-related Illnesses
The cooler the work environment is, the less prone your employees will be to developing heat-related illnesses.
Indoors. For indoor employees, provide adequate ventilation using windows and/or fans so air can circulate and cool perspiration from employees' skin. If possible, use air conditioning. If you do not have air conditioning, make sure employees are drinking enough water to prevent dehydration.
Outdoors. There are several things you can do to protect employees who work outside.
- Create shade. If there isn't access to ample shade, rent or buy large tents that can be moved from location to location as needed, and have a few smaller tents at various locations on the site so workers can take their breaks in the shade.
- Provide water. On hot days, employees should take 10 minute breaks each hour to cool off and re-hydrate. This should be mandatory to keep your employees safe.
- Weather scheduling. Pay attention to local weather forecasts and schedule the week's work accordingly. The most physically demanding work should be done in the early morning, when temperatures are coolest. For big projects, consider rotating your crews in different shifts so they're less prone to heat illness.
Insect-borne illnesses and plant-related irritations are also a risk during warm weather months. More information can be found by Clicking Here.
Know the Signs of Heat Illnesses
There are several warning signs that indicate an employee needs to stop, rest in the shade and drink water. The employee may even need to be taken to the hospital for professional medical evaluation.
Heat exhaustion. This can be a precursor to heat stroke so it's important to stop it before it progresses. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include:
- Confusion or unusual irritability
- Excessive thirst and heavy sweating
Affected workers need to be moved to the closest coolest environment and shed excess layers, including socks and shoes. Provide water for sipping and apply cool compresses to their head and neck. Employees should wash their face and hands with cool water. They should be evaluated by a medical professional ASAP.
Heat Stroke. Heat stroke is very serious and can be fatal if it goes unnoticed and/or untreated. It begins with the symptoms of heat exhaustion and those symptoms progress to include:
- Body temperature that exceeds 100 degrees
- Lack of sweat
- Loss of consciousness
Call 911 immediately if you suspect heat stroke. Get the employee into a cool environment and remove as much clothing as possible. Soak remaining clothing with water and apply wet cloths to their exposed skin until the EMTs arrive.
Build heat safety into your weekly safety meetings. Being prepared is a critical component of maintaining a safe construction site year-round.