Summer can be both a blessing and a curse for the construction industry. The appeal of summer’s extended daylight hours is overshadowed by extreme heat and humidity—and, the dangers of heat stress and heat-related illness.
Hot weather poses serious health risks for people working in construction. Early signs suggesting something is wrong include heat rash and heat cramps. If the body doesn’t get cooled down, heat exhaustion sets in. At this stage, people lose concentration and can’t stay focused on tasks. They might also become irritable or sick, and as the illness progresses, they even lose the desire to drink.
If they don’t get immediate medical attention when heatstroke sets in, they are on death’s door. Even if they pull through, they could have long-term brain and organ damage.
Beyond the risks to human life and health, hot weather poses multiple threats to construction businesses and the projects. Tools and equipment must operate at the higher extremes of their temperature ratings. That leaves less tolerance for delayed maintenance and can actually increase maintenance requirements. Materials are more prone to damage from warping, bleaching, and melting. Concrete is more difficult to place and is more likely to crack.
Human productivity falls as temperatures rise, often catching construction firms off guard as the schedule stalls and the budget escalates. Hot weather also contributes to accidents, claims, and damages.
Planning for hot weather begins with estimating. You can add materials and methods directly to the activities most likely affected by hot weather. For instance, on new construction and in remodeling, you might have times when building air-conditioning isn’t available because the equipment hasn’t been installed yet. To counter the heat, you might plan to purchase and set up fans to increase the airflow.
For outside activities in full sun, you might decide to use shade cloth, provide cooling towels, and keep water readily accessible. Different activities pose different levels of heat risks, so planning for them as you estimate will help to match the right response to the risk level.
OSHA recommends using administrative and engineering controls to reduce or eliminate heat hazards.
OSHA recommends using administrative and engineering controls to reduce or eliminate heat hazards. Air-conditioning and ventilation can lower the heat and humidity in workspaces. You might consider changing work hours, so people work during the cooler parts of the day. Other tactics include building rest periods into the work, keeping plenty of water available, and providing ways for workers to gradually build up a tolerance to working in the heat.
When dealing with equipment and tool risks, you might plan to perform maintenance on shorter intervals and set up ways to shade tools, fuel, and batteries. Planning for material storage and staging material purchases to arrive when they are needed reduces damage from improper storage. This can also help to lower employee heat risks as they locate, move, and place materials.
Finally, empower your schedules with appropriate hot weather controls. Calculate the risk scenarios and prepare to mitigate those risks or insure against them.
Pre-Warning Signs of Heatstroke
Train people to recognize the factors that lead to heat illness. It’s not just the heat. As the humidity rises, people can’t cool down as effectively through sweating as they usually do. If a person is working strenuously somewhere with no air movement and they are wearing protective gear, the threat of heat illness rises exponentially. People need to know the factors that lead to heat dangers and understand their cumulative effects.
You’ve got two areas to focus on here; environmental and job specific. Environmental factors that put workers at risk for heat illnesses are:
- High temperatures,
- High humidity,
- Machines, equipment, and materials that radiate heat,
- Hot objects,
- Direct sun with no shade,
- Little air movement.
The job-specific factors are physical exertion and wearing non-breathable protective clothing and equipment. All factors can come together very quickly to create a life-threatening situation and can pose threats to more than one person at a time.
Take Preventive Actions
Train people on recognizing heat illness and how to take preventive and first-aid actions. Often, the first sign someone is having trouble is when they get muscle cramps, pain, and spasms. These strike in the abdomen, arms, and legs. Experts recommend having people sit in a cool place for a few hours while drinking clear juice or sports beverage or drinking water accompanied with food. They should avoid salt tablets.
Experts recommend having people sit in a cool place for a few hours while drinking clear juice or sports beverage or drinking water accompanied with food.
Heat exhaustion happens when the body loses too much water and salt. Some of the symptoms include rapid heart rate, heavy sweating, weakness, dizziness, and nausea. First aid includes resting in a cool place, drinking a lot of water or cool beverages, and taking a cool shower, bath, or sponge bath.
When people get a heatstroke, they’ll have:
- High body temperature
- Loss of coordination
- Hot, dry skin, or profuse sweating
- Throbbing headache
- Seizures and coma
You should move the person to a cool, shaded area and call emergency medical responders. Removing excess clothing and applying cold water to the body can help the person stay cooler while waiting for medical help to arrive.
To learn more about how to prepare for and avoid the dangers of working in extreme heat, be sure to sign up for Procore’s “Mitigating the Hazards of Working in the Heat” course. The online, informative and engaging sessions, will get you up to speed and give you the tools you need to stay safe and cool this summer. Click here to register.