Know the Riskfactors, Signs, Symptoms and What to do in an Emergency — Your Safety Depends on it!
Although the “official” start to summer isn’t until Wednesday, most would agree that summer seemingly started over a month ago. With temperatures consistently reaching the high 80’s and 90’s, and the humidity percentage equally as high, recent temperatures and this year, in general, have been warm. That being said, it is easy to escape the heat with an air conditioned setting, some shade, a pool, or a lake to jump into, but construction crews, whose “office” is outside, are denied those luxuries, and are rarely able to fully cool off while on the clock.
As a result, heat stress, although a safety factor sometimes overlooked, is one that should be taken very seriously – especially in these hot, humid, muggy summer months when the risk is so much higher. And what’s more is that not all construction companies implement heat-stress programs or proper training and warning techniques in the event that a crew member suffers from heat stress on a job.
The recent fatality of a construction worker in Texas has spotlighted the dangers of this line of work being performed in extreme heat. The employee, who was never given any instruction regarding heat stress, its symptoms, or its severity, was outside working just south of San Antonio,Texas on a 97-degree day. Not until well into the day did he make mention of not feeling well, and was told to sit inside an air conditioned truck for roughly 30 minutes, drink some water, have a snack, and simply “take it easy.” Although he followed the instruction he was given, it just wasn’t enough. The employee was found unconscious by co-workers in a ditch near their jobsite, and after being rushed to the hospital in an ambulance, was pronounced dead. An autopsy revealed that his core body temperature was over 107-degrees.
To avoid tragedies like this one from happening again, it is vital that construction companies not only warn their employees of the risks of heat stroke, but implement a training and/or orientation program to make those who work outside aware of the risk, able to recognize the symptoms, and knowledgeable of what to do in a potentially dangerous or life-threatening heat stress/stroke situation.
It is highly recommended you keep your employees and co-workers informed on the dangers of working outside in extreme heat. Here are some tips:
- You should have a formal, written program in place that outlines the dangers of heat stress within your company. And if you do have such a document, it is a good idea to review it with your company annually and to new hires upon initial employment, incorporating proper and relevant training techniques to prepare them in the event of an emergency. These types of documents and/or formal training techniques, although not required by law, better comply with OSHA and its training requirements, and boost overall safety.
- Understand that heat stress, though slightly less severe than actual heat stroke, is basically just as dangerous. People suffering from a minor form of heat stress will still show symptoms, such as a decrease in physical performance and capability, a decline in alertness and overall mental health, and increased irritability, anger, and inattention. These are some of the earliest symptoms, but are ones that often go either unrecognized or ignored, leading to heat stroke, causing severe medical conditions and even fatality.
- To prevent head-induced illness and injury, either provide or require that water or hydrating sports drinks be available on all job sites, utilize the air conditioning in vehicles and equipment that have it (and for older models not equipped with air conditioning, recommend, perhaps, a nearby restaurant or gas station that they can resort to for A/C), suggest that workers take more breaks – preferably somewhere that is shady, cool, or air conditioned — than what is required to avoid exhaustion, and to refrain from working in the mid to late-afternoon hours when the heat index is the highest – these hours would be ideal for a lunch or “cooling off” break. If possible, you could even suggest starting work 30 minutes to an hour early, in an effort to finish the workday and get out of the heat that much sooner.
Outdoor construction is the busiest throughout the summer months, and keeping busy is ideal, especially in this economy, but crew safety and increased risk from the extreme heat that June, July, and August bring is most definitely something to keep in mind. Necessary training courses and the proper precautions will keep everybody safe and healthy out there.