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The Heat is On: 5 Ways for Construction Workers to Keep Cool in Hot Weather

With dangerously high temperatures still scorching much of the U.S., it’s critical that construction workers put safety first by protecting themselves from excessive heat. According to the United States Department of Labor, every year thousands of construction workers become ill from working in the heat, and in some cases, these instances become fatal. In fact, construction workers comprise about one-third of heat-related worker deaths. These staggering facts are a poignant reminder that heat stress is a very real concern that calls for our attention.

The good news is that heat illnesses and deaths are preventable and appropriate measures can be taken to mitigate risk.


The following reminders will help you keep your cool when temperatures and humidity rise:


1. Hydration is key


Drink water every 15-20 minutes, even if you’re not thirsty. It’s also important to avoid caffeine and alcohol, as they could increase the potential for heat stress. If prolonged sweating lasts several hours, sports beverages containing balanced electrolytes are a good option.


And remember, proper hydration begins at home. While drinking fluids on the job certainly helps, it likely isn’t enough to offset the heat. Maintaining good hydration habits both on and off the clock is a good plan.  


2. Rest in a cool, shaded area


Remember that working in full sunlight can increase heat index values by 15 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s important to rest in the shade in order to properly cool down. Air conditioned areas are ample, but even something as simple as a designated tent outside of direct sunlight is essential.


3. Have a plan in place


Having a plan to deal with high temperatures is crucial for any construction company. At a minimum, supervisors should know what temperatures will require more frequent breaks, or when a jobsite should be shut down entirely. No job is more important than the health and safety of the people building it. Emergency plans should also be clearly communicated to all workers so that in the event of heat illness, the appropriate measures can be taken.


4. Know the signs


Heat illness exhibits several symptoms that should never be ignored. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) offers the diagrams below to help monitor signs of illness. These signs should never be ignored. If you notice someone exhibiting any of these symptoms, immediate action should be taken to cool the person down and emergency personnel should be contacted if needed.


When working in hot temperatures, make sure to watch for these symptoms of heat illness. Image courtesy of OSHA.
When working in hot temperatures, make sure to watch for these symptoms of heat illness. Image courtesy of OSHA.


5. Alter schedules


Try to schedule heavy work and hot jobs for cooler parts of the day. Consider scheduling maintenance work during cooler months if possible. It’s also important to support employee acclimation to hot temperatures by starting small and progressively increasing work times each day until they get used to the weather.


In addition to these tips, construction workers should keep a close eye on work and weather conditions throughout the day. OSHA developed a Heat Safety Tool that’s compatible with Android and iPhones which offers vital safety information anytime, anyplace. By calculating the worksite heat index, a risk level to outdoor workers is displayed. Following risk assessment, reminders about protective measures that should be taken at that risk level are available to users.


For more information on Gray’s commitment to putting safety and quality of life first, click here

    Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a contributing author and not necessarily Gray.

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