5 Summer Safety Tips
The heat is on. Here are some tips to prepare for the hot summer days ahead
Hot weather is particularly challenging to the construction industry because workers are often exposed to the elements, including high temperatures and humidity. After enduring the hottest summer on record last year, protecting workers from the heat should be a top priority.
1. Ounces of prevention
Hydration plays a significant role in reducing heat illnesses and keeping your body properly conditioned for the job. Fluid intake is essential before, during and after work. The old saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” and in the case of heading off heat-related illnesses, ounces of water are invaluable.
Recommendations call for drinking water or electrolyte drinks such as Gatorade every 15 minutes, even if you are not thirsty — at least 6 to 8 ounces every hour. In extreme heat, it’s even more important to replenish fluids lost to perspiration. The optimum water temperature is 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit because very cold drinks can cause an upset stomach and possibly cramps. Avoid beverages with diuretics — substances that promote the increased production of urine — such as soda, coffee and energy drinks that contain caffeine and sugar.
2. Choose the right clothes
Appropriate clothing makes a big difference in hot environments. Choose lightweight clothing made of synthetic fabrics that wick sweat from the skin. For outdoor work, light-colored clothing is often recommended because it reflects the sun’s rays.
Looser-fitting clothes will also allow air to circulate and cool the body. However, job sites present hazards with equipment and machinery that can catch baggy clothing, so be mindful.
Don’t forget about personal protective equipment. Hard hats and vests are vital items, no matter the temperature. Choose vests made of lightweight materials, and pick vented hard hats that allow air circulation.
3. Sunscreen is very important
Clothing is a great help in warding off the sun’s rays, but it’s essential to put sunscreen on any exposed skin. Pay attention to the sun protection factor (SPF) in your sunscreen. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day. Regular use as directed — applied generously and evenly and reapplied every two hours or after sweating — can reduce your risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) by about 40% and lower your melanoma risk by 50%.
An important fact to remember: UV rays pass through glass, so even if you are operating a machine or sitting in a pickup, use sunscreen.
4. Working times
All job sites get hot during the summer months, especially those in urban areas where concrete and asphalt trap heat, and can send temperatures soaring. Since the sun is directly overhead at noon, the hottest part of the day is typically between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Schedule work around those times if you can. If that’s not possible, plan for more frequent breaks, and seek shade where the temperatures are cooler, such as under an awning, an umbrella or a tree.
5. Heat-related illnesses
Even with proper precautions, heat-related illnesses occur. Watch for early signs of heat-related illnesses, both for yourself and your co-workers. If you think you are suffering from heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps or heat rash, seek medical attention.
Heat exhaustion occurs when the body’s temperature is greater than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit. Symptoms include dizziness, headache, sweaty skin, weakness, cramps, nausea/vomiting and a fast heartbeat.
These are ways you can help someone who may be suffering from heat exhaustion:
- Move them away from the hot area
- Encourage frequent sips of cool water
- Remove unnecessary clothing such as shoes and socks
- Apply a cold compress to the head, neck and face
Heat stroke is more serious and occurs when the body’s temperature regulating system fails and the temperature rises to greater than 104 degrees Fahrenheit. If you think a co-worker is suffering a heat stroke, seek medical attention immediately and place cold, wet towels or ice all over their body, or soak their clothing with cold water, in addition to the steps listed above.
Regularly check local weather sources for temperature and heat alerts, and keep an eye out for each other on the job site. Summer temperatures may be trending upward, but with proper precautions, you can help heat injuries trend downward.