Soaring temperatures this time of year put your construction employees at risk — and that could put your business at risk if you end up facing a workers’ compensation claim as a result of a heat-related injury or illness. Here's what you need to know about helping your employees stay cool while still getting work done.
- Take heat seriously. Excessive heat isn't just a nuisance that makes workers sweaty and tired. Heat exhaustion and heatstroke can lead to permanent damage or death. In addition, construction workers are more likely to make mistakes when they're not thinking clearly because of heat.
- Understand the risk factors. Humans cool down by sweating, but as temperature and humidity rise, it becomes more difficult for the body to regulate internal temperature. When planning the work day, pay attention to the "heat index," which takes into account humidity and wind as well as actual temperature (kind of like the wind-chill factor in cold temperatures).
- Watch for warning signs. Early signs of overheating include irritability, difficulty concentrating, nausea and increased heart rate. Fainting can occur if the worker doesn't take steps to cool down. Educate your entire team, especially crew supervisors, about the warning signs of overheating. Don't let a "macho" attitude among your employees lead to heat-related injuries.
- Implement a buddy system. Pairing workers up can make it easier to spot early signs of heat stress that workers may try to ignore so they can “power through.” For example, if one worker notices his partner isn't responding to the conversation normally, looks dizzy or seems confused, he can have his buddy take a break and hydrate.
- Emphasize hydration. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends drinking 8 ounces of water every 15 to 20 minutes when working in heat, up to a maximum of 6 cups per hour. Provide plenty of water for workers and put someone in charge of ensuring the water supply is maintained.
- Enforce breaks. You may need to adjust the normal break schedule to allow for more frequent breaks when it's hot. Also give workers the flexibility to take additional breaks if they feel they’re overheating. However, realize that even if workers are in an air-conditioned setting during their breaks, the body still needs time to cool down — in other words, air conditioning doesn't speed up the process and let you rush workers back into the field.
- Provide the right equipment. Sun-reflective clothing, sunglasses, hats and lighter-weight gear can help workers stay cool as it gets hotter outside. Provide shaded rest areas; if possible, set up fans to help workers cool off during their breaks.
- Schedule appropriately for hot weather. On hot days, schedule work early in the morning or in the evening. Be prepared to shut down a worksite if it becomes too hot to work safely. Use a scheduling solution like Lighthouse Field Service so you can quickly update schedules in real-time as your needs change, right on your smartphone. Lighthouse Field Service also makes it easy to keep the crew in the loop. You can text one person or the whole team to check on progress or update them on changes to the schedule.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the Department of Labor offer lots of information to help you implement a heat safety policy for your construction business.