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Staying safe when the weather heats up

June 6, 2017

A roofer recently was telling a story about how many building owners invite him inside to take breaks during the squelching summer months. His reply always is a simple, “Thank you, but no. I’ll have a stroke.” He goes on to say people are sometimes taken aback by his remark or think he is kidding. In reality, going in and out of extreme hot and cold temperatures can cause heat stroke, and there is nothing funny about that.

Although framers do not work on hot roofs, they often work outside or in muggy, non-air-conditioned spaces. As summer begins, all construction workers need a reminder about how to work safely in the heat.

Tips for staying cool

The first thing you can do to protect your crews is keep them out of the heat. Negotiate with general contractors and owners to start work in the early morning when it’s cooler. If needed, send a second crew out at night.

Allow your workers time to adjust to the heat at the start of the summer; not everyone can work at the same pace when it is 90 F outside. The body will eventually acclimate to the heat, but everyone should start slow. This is especially true for new or young workers who do not yet understand the physical and mental effects of heat.

Buy your workers cool gear in terms of light-colored work shirts and hats. Also consider buying shirts that wick away sweat to keep the body cooler. Hats should be worn, and shade should be created with a tent or tarp if a jobsite doesn’t have a shady spot for breaks.

Workers should be allowed to take breaks and encouraged to drink water—not sports drinks—frequently. Lunch and snacks should be lighter, cooler foods. A heavy meal will only slow someone down and could lead to dehydration if it is loaded with salt and preservatives.

Signs of heat-related illnesses

Encourage your workers to look out for each other and be aware of the signs of heat-related illness. Heat exhaustion starts with a headache or dizziness, moist skin, confusion, an upset stomach/vomiting, a rash and cramps. Heat stroke progresses to dry, hot skin; confusion; and seizures. Teach your workers that if someone is acting strange, dropping tools or slurring his speech, that person needs to be cooled off. Call 911 if improvement is not seen quickly or if any heat stroke signs are observed.

Summer heat is not something to brush off. OSHA reports heat-related hospitalizations and deaths each year. In response, OSHA has created a mobile app, Heat Safety Tool, to help manage the heat at construction jobsites. It offers a heat index calculator and has tips and reminders about staying protected.

A lot of these suggestions seem like common sense, but haven’t we all at some point felt the effects of summer heat when we thought we could just work through it? Don’t let the heat bring injuries or fatalities to your company. Plan ahead, and work smart this summer.

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