Have you checked the calendar lately? You probably don’t have to in order to know what is coming. The days are getting longer and our kids are constantly reminding us that school is almost out for the year! You guessed it. Summer is just around the corner. And with summer comes hot weather and increased exposure for construction workers to hot working conditions on project sites.
Hot weather can be a significant challenge for many workers in the construction industry. The increase in temperature can appear to happen overnight. Prolonged exposure to high temperatures without preparation can lead to increased risks for heat-related illnesses including dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Project site conditions are never ideal. They are normally too hot, too cold, too windy, or too rainy. So, how do you beat the heat? Do you take the summer off and wait for the fall and cooler temperatures to arrive? Most likely this is not an option. So, you have to work smart in order to overcome the weather conditions that you are dealt on a daily basis.
Here are seven common sense steps that workers in the construction industry can take to help them beat the summer heat and be prepared for the construction site:
1. Drink water.
Water is one of the most important liquids that you can drink when you are working and sweating. According to the United States Geological Survey, water makes up approximately 60% of the human body. It has many different and important functions in the body. The more you sweat out, the more important it becomes to replenish what was lost.
2. Drink frequently – even if you aren’t thirsty.
You may have heard the expression “If you wait to drink until you are thirsty, it is too late.” It is suggested by OSHA that you drink frequently, especially when working in hot weather conditions. In fact, OSHA recommends that workers drink every 15 to 20 minutes in order to maintain better levels of hydration.
3. Avoid caffeinated liquids (coffee) and alcoholic drinks (beer).
These substances are diuretics and result in the increased production of urine. This causes more fluids to leave the body than what are being absorbed. If you are going to be working in hot weather conditions, it is best to avoid that cup of coffee before you start working. It is also preferable that you avoid those beers the night before.
4. Set-up a shaded area on the project site.
Have a pre-determined rest area that is shaded with good ventilation. This should allow workers to get out of the hot sun and into the shade. It is important to have a well-ventilated area for fresh air and air movement for cooling.
5. Wear light-colored clothing and a hat for protection.
Wear light colored clothing that will reflect the sun’s rays. In addition, clothing should breathe and be lightweight. A hat can also help prevent absorption of the sun’s rays by the scalp and head.
6. Shift heavy workloads to cooler times of the day.
Heavy workloads and difficult tasks can create stress for the physical body, especially when the work is done during peak hours when temperatures are at their highest. If possible, it is best to organize heavy workloads so that they are completed at times when the temperatures are lower.
7. Gradually increase workloads. Don’t go full tilt!
As temperatures increase, many overlook the gradual process of easing into the workload. Most go full tilt into the work on hot days. This can have a negative effect on workers in the field, especially those who are new to the company or crew. Easing into workload with the increased temperatures may help employees adapt to the new work environment.
Remember – check these suggestions with your supervisor or manager before acting on them. There may be specific requirements on your job sites that may limit some of these suggestions. Also, these suggestions are not to be construed as medical advice. If you are under a doctor’s care, talk with them about how to best take care of yourself on a construction site and how to prepare for hot weather.
As construction workers, we cannot completely control the environment that we work in. Usually we have to adapt our surroundings and adjust our behaviors accordingly. By working smart and by being aware of simple measures we can take to remain safe, we can all beat the heat!