With the heat of summer in full force, heat-related illness is as relevant as ever. There are already plenty of safety concerns associated with construction work, but the summer heat can add another dimension. Dehydration, heat exhaustion, heatstroke, and fatigue are just some of the conditions that come as a result of working in extreme heat. For this reason, it is important for construction workers to be informed of heat-related illnesses and the preventative measures they can take to mitigate them. To help everyone stay cool this summer, we have compiled eleven safety tips that they should follow when working in the heat. Remember, to always contact your designated safety professional if you are concerned about the weather or the conditions of your jobsite.
Tips For Staying Cool on Summer Jobs:
On hot summer jobs, hydration is the number one priority. The combination of physical labor and exposure to high temperatures can lead to dehydration and increase the risk of heat-related illness. Proper hydration allows the body to regulate temperature, maintain energy levels, and prevents cognitive impairment. One good practice is to hydrate before bed; this helps your body cleanse, provides undisturbed sleep, and ensures you are refreshed and energized in the morning. Another is to start drinking water before the workday begins; this ensures that you begin work fully hydrated. Always make sure you come to work prepared with a full supply of cold water and drink regularly throughout the day.
2. Utilize Shade
Whenever there is an opportunity, it is important to work or take cover in a shaded area. Direct sunlight will raise your body temperature and burn your energy levels. The true air temperature is always measured in the shade, which is why standing in direct sunlight can make the air feel 10-15 degrees warmer than it actually is. Use the shade to get away from the intense heat and allow the body to cool down. If there is no natural shade, use a tent or umbrella to create it.
3. Take Frequent Breaks
It is okay to take extra breaks. Taking longer breaks allows the body to cool down in the summer, especially considering the physical demand and scorching heat. As a result, a safe practice is to work in short bursts with more frequent breaks. This will prevent overheating and allow the body to recharge.
4. Dress Appropriately
Wearing proper clothing in the heat may seem trivial, but it can make a big difference. The right clothing can help lessen the effects of hot weather on your body. Opt for loose fitting and breathable fabrics in light colors. These clothes allow for better air circulation, reduce heat retention, and reflect sunlight. Long sleeves and hats are also recommended to provide sun protection.
5. Wear Sunscreen
Even if you are wearing PPE, it is likely some areas of the skin will be exposed to sunlight. Sunscreen should be applied to exposed areas and areas prone to burn. Using a sunscreen with a high SPF rating will reduce the risk of sunburn. Some symptoms of sunburn may include tender and swollen skin, fever, nausea, headaches, fatigue, as well as an increased risk of skin cancer. Be mindful that sweat can cause sunscreen to wear off, so it is best to reapply often.
6. Use Fans/Misters
If possible, fans or misters are great ways to provide some relief on jobsites. Fans can help circulate air and make the work environment more comfortable. They aid in evaporating sweat from the skin, which reduces body heat. Misters provide instant relief by a process called mist cooling. The water molecules from the mister use your body heat to transform into water vapor. As they evaporate, they remove the heat from your skin and help your body cool.
7. Schedule Work Strategically
Planning work schedules around the hottest parts of the day is another way to help avoid heat-related illness. If possible, try to work in the early mornings or evenings to evade the heat and lessen the toll it takes on your body. If you can't avoid the hottest hours of the day, try to complete the more physically demanding parts of the job in the early morning to get them out of the way.
8. Avoid Caffeine
Caffeine can contribute to dehydration if consumed in excess, so it is best to limit or avoid it on hot summer days. Coffee and energy drinks are examples of drinks that contain a large amount of caffeine, so try to avoid them, or at least try to drink them in moderation. While working in hot weather conditions, heavily caffeinated drinks may increase the rate at which you become dehydrated as it is a diuretic. Water or drinks that replenish electrolytes remain the safest and most effective options for beating the heat.
9. Use Cooling Aids or Ice Packs
Utilizing cooling aids or ice packs are other great sources of relief from the heat. Damp towels, bandanas, or neck wraps are effective at helping regulate body temperature. In addition, ice packs can be applied to pulse points such as the neck and wrists to offer some coolness. Pulse points are areas where blood vessels are closer to the surface of the skin, so cooling these areas will more effectively cool your blood.
10. Eat Properly
If you're working during the summer, you'll want to maintain a light diet. The more you eat, the more energy your body needs to allocate toward breaking it down. This process creates even more heat and is one of the key benefits to snacking and keeping meals small. In addition to watching how much you eat, you'll also want to include foods that replenish electrolytes and vitamins such as fruits and vegetables in your diet.
11. Know the Signs
While working in hot weather conditions, anyone can be at risk of heat-related illness. It is important to know the warning signs so that you can monitor yourself and co-workers. Fatigue, dizziness, nausea, headaches, muscle cramps, and rapid heart beat are all early warning signs of heat-related illness. If you notice any of these symptoms in yourself or someone else, take immediate action by resting in the shade and hydrating. If necessary, seek medical attention or consult your safety professional for advice on handling specific situations.