The summertime is when construction companies across the country get the majority of their work done.
But it’s also one of the most dangerous times of the year to be outside. The sun beating down from above, the humidity and/or dry air surrounding work crews, and the reflection off a hot blacktop all combine to conspire against heavy civil workers out in the field, causing heat illness even in those who are used to hot conditions.
Heat illness occurs when a person’s body temperature rises to levels beyond what the body can cool down by sweating. Not drinking water frequently and not resting in shade or air conditioning can have dangerous consequences -- from heat rash and heat cramps to heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Heat stroke requires immediate medical attention and can result in death.
Between 2008 and 2014, OSHA responded to 109 heat-related fatalities involving outdoor workers in the United States.
That’s why OSHA introduced the nationwide Heat Illness Prevention Campaign in 2011. This effort aims to raise awareness and teach workers and employees about the dangers of working in hot weather, as well as to provide valuable resources to address heat concerns.
According to OSHA, the industries most affected by heat illness are construction, trade, transportation and utilities, agriculture, building and grounds maintenance, landscaping services, and support services for oil and gas operations.
However, any worker exposed to hot and humid conditions is at risk of heat illness, especially those doing heavy work tasks or wearing bulky protective gear. New workers, temporary workers, or those returning to work after time off are often even more susceptible to high temperatures because they have not yet built up a tolerance to hot conditions. But even experienced workers are susceptible to heat illness. Working in full sunlight can increase heat index values by 15 degrees Fahrenheit.
But heat illness can be prevented. Employers should establish a complete program that includes providing plenty of water, rest, and shade, and they should educate workers on preventing heat illness. Workloads should be gradually increased for a week or more to acclimatize workers to the heat, and work schedules should be modified as needed. Employers should have a plan in place for emergencies and should train workers to spot the symptoms of heat-related illnesses.
OSHA provides some basic guidelines for preventing heat-related illness:
Drink water every 15 minutes, even if you are not thirsty;
Rest in the shade to cool down;
Wear a hat and light-colored clothing, if possible;
Learn the signs of heat illness and what to do in case of emergency;
Keep an eye on fellow workers; and
Build a tolerance to the heat by slowly increasing your workload.
Find out more about OSHA’s Heat Illness Prevention Campaign, including education resources and historical data, here.
HCSS can also help you prevent heat illness by monitoring your jobsite safety with HCSS Safety and the Safety Field mobile app. Hold toolbox talks and inspections, report any issues, near misses or incidents, and maintain employee skills and certifications automatically, and view mineable data to see trends and recurring issues.
Visit our HCSS Safety product page for more information.