Stop Heat Exhaustion Before It Starts
Summer is settling in for most of us, and that means hot days. It's time to put your hot weather safety plan in place. You know how to take care of yourself in the hot weather, but most of us don’t think about it until it’s too late. A little planning now will help you save some misery, and you’ll enjoy summer-time jobs a lot more.
Working on roofs or on the street where the sun bounces heat onto you puts you and your co-workers at risk of heat exhaustion or even heat stroke. Hot attics and other buildings that lack AC during this time of year can get trigger trouble before you're even aware of the danger.
When the humidity is above 60%, working with layers and safety gear can become especially dangerous. It’s all too easy to become so focused on your work that you fail to notice when your body fails to cool itself down effectively.
Excessive heat exposure causes illnesses from cramps to death every year. Your enthusiasm for a job you enjoy will lower, you'll be more irritable, and it puts your health at risk.
The temperature at construction sites can be much higher than the air temperature. With pro-active plans such as work-break cycles, work arrangements, and cool-down areas providing water and sports drinks, the risks can be lowered.
Controlling heat stress is crucial for your mental and physical well-being and your work productivity and performance. If a job in the summer takes you two hours longer than it did in the spring, that's a loss of income.
Your reputation is also at risk. Being able to meet deadlines is essential. There's no time in a busy schedule for taking time off for heat-related illnesses or accidents that happen when you or one of your team becomes dizzy and confused.
We're going to go through five important areas to help you, and anyone working with you beat the heat and stay healthy this summer. The excessive temperatures may still wear you out, but with a bit of planning, you’ll feel better through your workday, and you’ll do a better job.
Area 1: Hydration Awareness.
The number one way to avoid heat-related injuries on the job is to stay well hydrated. Make sure you and everyone who works with you drink plenty of water at home the night before work and before coming to work in the morning.
While working the job, everyone should have water with them and take a drink every half hour at a minimum. With 90-degree heat turning into temperatures of well over 100 degrees in many working areas, this is vitally important.
If you’re wearing extra PPE, it’s estimated that you can lose as much as 2.25 liters per hour. You may not feel this happening until it’s too late. Be aware and drink a lot of water regularly throughout the workday to avoid suffering.
Keep your water cool by using a cooler full of ice, a special flask made to keep liquid chilled, and other tools. Don’t let your water set in the sun and become warm. Your body will not absorb warm water as easily.
Ensuring extra hydration during sweltering days is so important that if you’re in charge of your crew, you should make following proper hydration mandatory. You feel responsible for your team and their families in other safety measures. Hydration should be treated just as seriously.
Area 2: Work-break cycles.
Increase the number of breaks during the hottest summer days. Everyone working on the job site should stop and get into a shady location with airflow for a short break every so often. A five-minute break once an hour will go a long way towards increasing work productivity and avoiding heat-related illnesses and the costly accidents caused by them.
When you're the boss, it's tempting to keep going and not set the same rules for yourself. Overconfidence and devotion to completing the job on time could be your undoing. Make sure you follow the same rules as everyone else on the team.
Area 3: Work arrangement.
When possible, schedule the sections of a big project that are in the shadier spots during the hottest part of the day. Start on the open areas early in the day to get as much done before the heat starts beating down upon you.
For jobs that don't allow any shady spots or days that are stifling hot even in the shade, setting up a large air mover nearby helps. Keeping a good airflow movement will increase work productivity and help you be able to work longer before tiring from the heat.
Organize your work areas to need the least amount of movement as possible. When it's extremely hot outside, any wasted movements or activities tire you out faster and lead to overheating.
During the hottest days of the summer, schedule work at daybreak as often as possible. Stop work earlier in the day while still maintaining a full workday.
Area 4: Cool Down Areas.
While some contractors think of stashing extra water for the team, many don't think of establishing cool-down areas. If you have a vehicle tall enough to make a good shady spot, bringing some folding chairs and a folding table is enough.
For bigger teams and areas with no shady spots to utilize, a portable canopy can be valuable at the worksite. A canopy, chairs, cooler full of ice, and plenty of water and sports drinks will help keep everyone happy and healthy while working in the heat.
For emergencies, make sure you have the following items ready to deal with any cases of heat-related issues:
- A cooler of ice.
- Sports drinks for replenishing salt.
- Extra water.
- Towels for holding ice in or ice towels.
- Coconut water can help deal with nausea and replenish minerals.
- Fan for cooling off quickly.
- Emergency cell phone, should anyone not be able to get to their own when needed.
Keep drinks cool and where they can easily be grabbed in an emergency.
Area 5: Team Awareness.
When working alone, you'll have to look out for yourself. When working with others, everyone has to look out for everyone else too.
Being aware of the signs of heat-related issues is crucial to avoiding extreme illnesses, accidents, and even death.
Be aware of two types of heat exhaustion:
- Water depletion: thirst, weakness, headaches, and loss of consciousness.
- Salt depletion: nausea and vomiting, muscle cramps, and dizziness.
If you or someone else has any of these symptoms, it's vitally important you intervene quickly to avoid heatstroke.
- muscle or abdominal cramps
- nausea and vomiting
- pale skin
- profuse sweating
- rapid heartbeat
Immediately get yourself or the person you observe having trouble out of the heat. Getting to an air-conditioned spot is preferable, but try to find the nearest cool and shady spot if that’s not available.
- Drink plenty of fluids, especially sports drinks, to replace lost salt.
- Remove tight and unnecessary clothing.
- Grab ice towels to cool off with and sit in front of a fan.
If the signs of heat exhaustion are not relieved within 15 minutes, seek emergency help because heat exhaustion can escalate to heatstroke quickly.
Conclusion and more heat battling advice.
It is possible to get through a day at the worksite where the temperatures reach, and sometimes exceed, 100 degrees and still enjoy your work. Pay attention to the little details. Watch out for your co-workers and be safe.
Something as small as having two or more pairs of work gloves to switch wearing throughout a hot workday can make a huge difference. Work slower and steady, and the job will get done without you becoming a work-statistic.
And hydrate. I can’t stress this enough. At home, before, during, and after work. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
Choose lighter lunches, but don’t skip your lunch. Make sure you get enough calories in to make it through the day. Include some heat-friendly foods such as watermelon, cucumber, oranges, celery, etc.
Drinking a bit of celery juice or V8 juice is good for helping prevent heat exhaustion. Coconut juice helps maintain your electrolyte balance and cool your internal systems without adding a lot of salt that threatens your blood pressure.
Dip a rag in ice water and lay it across the back of your neck to help cool down quickly on your work breaks. Bring extra rags for others who lose or forget their own.
Enjoy your summer with as little suffering as possible during the extra hot workdays with these tips. Look out for those around and yourself. With a little vigilance, you’ll be able to maintain a steady work pace and get that job done by the deadline without any mishaps.
By preparing at the start of the season, you can have everything you need to stay as cool as possible while working through the summer heat. You’ll save mental anguish, enjoy work more, and reap the rewards of a successful job completion.