Construction workers face a variety of risks on a daily basis. Many are obvious, such as slips, trips and falls, heavy lifting and large, moving vehicles. However, not all are this out in the open. In fact, one of the more hidden hazards may not be incorporated into every risk management plan across the country: heat.
Now that summer is here, hot weather can be one of the most dangerous elements in the construction industry, but temperature can also prove a problem year-round thanks to equipment or processes that put workers in harm's way. Therefore, all employers should take the time to address this key issue, and institute measures to ensure that all staff members are protected from the dangers of heat.
In order to do just that, here are several tips that will shed light on this specific on-the-job hazard:
Identify where problems can occur
Problems associated with heat can manifest themselves in a variety of ways, making it challenging for construction firms to figure out where the real hazards are and how those issues can be prevented. While it may sound tough on the surface, identifying this risk is of primary importance.
According to Blueprints, a publication of The American Society of Safety Engineers, the biggest threat related to heat is dehydration. Even in the coldest months, overheated workers can become exhausted and more susceptible to health problems or accidents on the job. Common signs of problems include heat rash, cramps, exhaustion or illness. In most cases, the best treatment method at this stage is to get the worker to a cooler area, stop them from performing manual labor or seek medical help.
In addition, the ASSE pointed out several key employees who may be at risk. Naturally, those who are outside in the hottest, most humid weather of the year are most likely to fall prey to heat-related health problems. People who have prior conditions, such as heart disease or circulatory disorders, are also in danger, as well as those who abuse drugs. Furthermore, those who are performing tasks while wearing heavy safety equipment or certain clothes may be at risk. Company culture can also interfere, as many employees are embarrassed to admit they are in trouble.
Stop the threat of heat at its source
If an employee shows signs of heat-related illness, steps should be taken immediately to improve their situation. However, it is better and more cost-effective to implement more proactive strategies to stop this problem at its source.
According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, these issues can often be prevented before they ever take a toll on the workforce. For example, employers may want to make the environment as cool as possible. This can be achieved via air conditioners, cooling fans, ventilation, insulation of hot surfaces and other key steps. Keeping workers as far away from warm surfaces as possible will help ensure they are cool.
OSHA also recommended that certain practices take place within the construction company to further lower the risk of heat-related illnesses. Ideally, a risk management plan will address this topic, as should the specific emergency plan that details how workers respond to this hazard. Scheduling can also reduce the risk of heat by stopping employees from operating in peak hours of the day, or by shortening their hours. Above all else, everyone in the company needs to be trained about risk factors, types of illnesses, the value of staying hydrated and how to react if a problem were to occur. This way, any issue can be caught as early as possible.