It seems like summer just flew by, but we can all remember those days (and weeks) that dragged on as temperatures steadily climbed through the 90s and often broke the 100 degree mark. Just walking out the door seemed like a task as the heat wave hit you like a wall.
If your job is outdoors, you likely suffered more this summer than most of us. Construction workers and landscapers need to take extra precautions when working in dangerously high temperatures. Read on and watch this video where our resident safety expert, Chad Tisonik, shares his insight on who's at risk for heat hazards, how to prevent incidents of heat stress, and how to identify them when they do occur:
Know the signs of heat hazards
Companies with business based outdoors should have written procedures for heat safety and precautions. Knowing when to implement the different protective measures can help you avoid high cost injuries and illness from heatstroke, fatigue, or dehydration.
One of the best references for outdoor employers is the Heat Index. This index combines the temperature with humidity to give a more accurate reading to how it “feels” outside. Based on this number, employers should have an understanding of the risks associated with the job that day and take proper actions to keep their employees safe.
Take the proper preventative measures
Working in hot environments is not the time to have a “tough it out” mentality. Though OSHA doesn’t have specific requirements for working in these conditions, the employer does have a responsibility to protect their employees in any known hazard, including extreme heat. OSHA recommends following 3 basic rules:
Water: Hydration is key to keeping the internal body temperature cool. If your workers aren’t sweating very much, it could also be a sign that they are already dehydrated. Headaches and muscles cramps are also a sign of dehydration and should be addressed immediately.
Rest: Working in the heat is a much harder stress on the body than on normal temperature days. The body is trying to complete tasks while also cooling off, and workers will feel fatigued faster. Make sure your employees get regular breaks to rest and rehydrate.
Shade: The sun is a huge drain on workers mentally and physically. The sun is a stimulant for the brain, and the constant stimulation can cause headaches or general fatigue with the constant “synapse overload.” The sun is also hard on a worker’s eyes and skin. Make sure to put up a tent or cooling van if there isn’t natural shade at your worksite so workers have a place to get out of the sun a few times during their shift.
Who is at risk for heatstroke?
The most at-risk employees are new workers or workers returning from a break. These groups often haven’t built up a tolerance to the heat.
OSHA recently investigated 25 incidents of heat-related illness, and in nearly half of the cases, the worker involved was on their first day of work. 80% of the time, the worker involved had only been on the job for four or fewer days. Take the extra time to train new workers on the risks of working in hot conditions, and allow for additional breaks if needed.
Additional things to consider
- Do you have a set plan for a heat-related emergency? Are all your employees trained on it?
- Do you provide the right clothing to help with over-heating?
- What changes can you make to the physical labor tasks to make the work less strenuous for your employees?
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