It's warming up in many parts of the country. For construction companies, that means it's the perfect time to go to work. Unfortunately, in some climates, that warm summer weather also means construction workers are at a greater risk for heat-related illnesses.
What can construction managers do to keep their teams safe during the warm summer weather? Here's a look at the risks and some options for avoiding them.
The Risks of Working in Summer Heat
What are the common risks that accompany working during hot summer weather? Construction workers and others who work outside during the summer are at an increased risk for:
Sunburn: UV exposure can lead to sunburn. Without protection, repeated sunburns increase the risk that the individual can develop skin cancer or related conditions.
Dehydration: Not getting enough water can cause problems with thinking, reasoning and mood changes and can cause the body to overheat, according to the CDC.
Heat exhaustion: This is the first stage of heat-related illness. Heat exhaustion causes the individual to sweat more as the body overheats.
Heatstroke: When the body's temperature reaches 104 degrees F, it experiences heatstroke, which can be fatal if left untreated.
Understanding these risks is just the first piece of the puzzle. What can construction managers do to protect their crew during warm summer weather?
Provide Plenty of Water
The first step that construction managers should take is to provide cool or cold water for team members to drink frequently throughout the day. According to OSHA guidelines, employers should be providing water as soon as the heat index rises above 103 degrees F rather than soda or other drinks that contain caffeine.
Managers and supervisors should be encouraging their team members to drink small amounts of water frequently throughout the day instead of waiting until they feel thirsty to drink. This allows for optimum hydration in all but the most extreme situations.
Have an Emergency Plan
Summer might be the best time for most construction crews to work, but summer weather can be tricky. The forecast can go from sun to thunderstorms to humid and cloudy, all within the span of a few hours. Severe storms can throw a wrench in even the best-planned workday, so it's important to have an emergency plan in place for whatever the site might experience.
The exact details of an emergency plan will depend on the location of the jobsite and the kind of severe weather that it might experience. Floridian companies should have a plan in place for hurricanes and severe thunderstorms, while those in the midwest will need to prepare for tornadoes and those on the west coast will need to know what to do in the event of an earthquake or wildfire.
Start a Stretch and Flex Program
Preparing your body for construction work is always important. Healthy meals, hydration and rest all play a role in staying sharp and focused on the job. However, a little exercise between shifts also helps loosen muscles, wake up workers and prevent job-related injuries.
In the summer, construction managers should make stretching and flexing a routine to reduce the post-lunch slump that summer heat and sunshine can exacerbate. A professional trainer or physiotherapist can help develop a program that works important muscles and customizes movements for workers.
Try to Avoid the Hottest Hours of the Day
No one wants to get up early in the morning, but during the warm summer months, that might be the best option for keeping crew members safe from hot weather. Ideally, crews should avoid working during the hottest hours of the day — usually between 11 am and 2 pm in most climates, though it might vary depending on the location of the jobsite.
This could be a time to schedule indoor meetings, lunch breaks or other events that don't require team members to be outdoors. If it isn't possible to avoid working during these hours, try to keep workers in the shade or indoors as much as possible.
Encourage Frequent Breaks
Finally, ensure that managers and team members are taking frequent breaks whenever they're working in the summer heat. If they're scheduled well, these breaks won't interrupt the flow of work but will help to keep team members safe from heat-related illnesses.
Provide crews with shaded or indoor spaces where they can take their breaks. These frequent pauses aren't nearly as effective if they have to take place out in the sun. This can also be a good time to encourage frequent hydration to make sure no one is getting dehydrated during the course of their duty.
Be Prepared and Stay Cool This Summer
Regardless of where a job site is located, hot summer weather can put construction crews at risk unless precautions are taken to keep them safe. Provide plenty of water, take frequent breaks out of the sun, and try to avoid being outdoors during the hottest hours of the day whenever possible.
Pair these action items with a comprehensive emergency plan and you'll have everything you need to keep your crew safe from the heat this summer.