Tips on keeping your employees healthy while working on hot, sunny jobsites.

We cannot control the weather, but we can definitely lessen these damaging effects of working in the hot sunlight:
  • Productivity is low due to the high temperature and excessive sweating.

  • Employees may suffer from sunburn, heat exhaustion, heat strokes and the possible risk of melanoma skin cancer.

  • The bright sun is hard on the eyes.

  • Workers’ tools and materials become too hot to touch.

  • Morale is low; it is not fun working in the heat.

    During the hot summer months, employees at construction sites face an even greater risk of heat stress than they endure the rest of the year. In 2007, 210 workers died and 3,554 others experienced heat-related occupation injuries and illnesses serious enough to make them miss work.

  • Ten Steps To Keep Workers Cool

    To help employers and workers avoid heat-related illnesses and fatalities, OSHA now offers a Heat Stress Card with tips and precautions, and includes information on warning signs, symptoms and early treatment.

    To protect workers, OSHA recommends the following steps:
    1. Train all workers to recognize and treat the signs of heat stress. Be sure all workers know who has been trained to provide first aid. Also train supervisors to detect early signs of heat-related illness and permit workers to interrupt their work if they become extremely uncomfortable.

    2. Consider workers’ physical condition when determining fitness to work in hot environments.

    3. Taking certain medications, lack of conditioning, obesity, pregnancy and inadequate rest can increase susceptibility to heat stress.

    4. Work in pairs. Employees can keep an eye on each other with the buddy system.

    5. Help workers adjust to the heat by assigning a lighter workload and longer rest periods for the first five to seven days of intense heat. This process must start all over again when a worker returns from vacation or is absent from the job.

    6. Encourage workers to drink plenty of water - about one cup of cool water every 15-20 minutes, even if they are not thirsty. Avoid alcohol, coffee, tea and caffeinated soft drinks that dehydrate the body.

    7. Encourage workers to wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing. Workers should change clothes if they get completely saturated.

    8. Use general ventilation and spot cooling at points of high heat production. Good airflow increases evaporation and cooling of the skin.

    9. Alternate work and rest periods, with rest periods in a cooler area. Shorter, more frequent work-rest cycles are best. Schedule heavy work for cooler times of the day. And use appropriate protective clothing.

    10. Monitor temperatures, humidity and workers’ responses to heat at least hourly.

    OSHA’s Heat Stress Card, in English or Spanish, is available on OSHA’s Web site, Copies of a laminated card are available, free, when you call OSHA Publications at 202/693-1888.

    Be Proactive

    What we now call value engineering used to be called common sense. You have all heard the statement that common sense is not very common. By simply analyzing situations and looking for alternatives, you become a sunshine value engineer:
  • The weather bureau cannot accurately forecast rain, thunderstorms, tornados, hurricanes, etc., but the sun is very predictable. Meteorologists will tell you what time the sun will come up in the east, that the sun will be directly overhead in the south at noon, and when it will set in the west. The sun’s pattern doesn’t change much.

    When you have a tall tree and/or building on or near your site, you can use them for shade and schedule your work during those predictable shady hours.

    You also can use flex time to allow your employees the opportunity to stay out of the hot, direct sun. You may need temporary lighting, but your increased productivity will offset those costs. Mexico and other southern nations who live and work in extremely hot climates even utilize their afternoon siestas to escape torrid temperatures during the hottest daytime hours.

  • When you must work in the direct sunlight, you have effective alternatives to protect your workers and increase productivity:

    1. Create your own shade. You can set up a portable, easy-to-move tent that will keep your employees out of the sun; they will be the envy of all other trades on that jobsite. These tents are low in cost and designed for quick and easy installation on rooftops and on the ground.

    2. You can use an attached umbrella-type cover on your digging equipment and also your scissor-lifts and snorkels. You see these on utility worker sites from telephone and power companies or on farming equipment to protect farmers from the hot sun.

    3. Trench workers can use a rolling caterpillar-type tent that is moved forward as they continue laying pipe. In addition to employee safety and profit-producing productivity, these tents provide a bonus: rain protection.

    4. With a larger tent or temporary roof between two jobsite trailers, you can maintain an on-site fab shop. In addition to beating the hot sun and cold rain, your labor savings are phenomenal.

    5. Whenever feasible, provide fans to keep the air moving. Electric fans do not cool the air, but they do help our sweat evaporate, which cools our bodies. Many workers will tie a short piece of ribbon or cloth to blow in the wind for the psychological effect of seeing the air moving.

    6. Provide ice water on each jobsite; encourage your workers to drink as much of it as possible, even if they are not thirsty. Your body needs water to keep cool. Some contractors also provide sports drinks, such as Gatorade, Powerade, etc., because they replace electrolytes and other nutrients lost by sweating.

    7. Avoid using salt tablets unless prescribed by a physician. This is a major turn around from the old days because it has been proven that we have enough salt in our normal diet to offset the heat.

    8. Wear light-colored, lightweight clothing that is loose, comfortable and safe. When working around machinery, make certain no one is wearing anything flowing that could be dangerously caught in machinery parts. Light colors reflect some of the sun’s energy. Keep as much of the body covered as possible to avoid sunburn and the possibility of skin cancer.

    9. Eat small meals and eat often. Take short breaks to grab a quick snack along with a short rest from any strenuous activity. Sit down in the shade anytime you feel overtired or exhausted.

    10. Wear sunglasses and a peaked hat to shield your eyes from the sun.

    11. Think winter. One can easily remember those bitter cold and windy days in February when you would have given anything for a hot day!

    12. Maintain a light-hearted atmosphere to keep your workers’ morale high. They can laugh at these problems just as easily as complaining about them. High morale helps to eliminate the possibility of unnecessary accidents or injuries.

    Your employees will appreciate your concern for their well-being. You could use a thermometer to show them the difference in temperature in the hot sun versus the cool shade.

  • First-Aid Know-How

    Your jobsite foremen are required to maintain first-aid training and should recognize these symptoms:

  • Heat cramps are muscular pains and spasms due to heavy exertion. Although heat cramps are the least severe, they are an early warning sign that your body is having a problem with the heat.

  • Heat exhaustion usually occurs with heavy exercise or hard work in hot and humid areas. Body fluids are lost through heavy sweating and the blood flow is diverted to the skin. This decreases the normal blood flow to the vital organs, resulting in a form of mild shock. If not treated properly, you could suffer a heat stroke.

  • Heat stroke, often called sunstroke, is very serious and life-threatening. The body’s temperature control system, which produces sweating to cool the body, stops functioning and the entire body stops working. The body temperature can rise so high that brain damage and death may result if the body is not cooled quickly.

    General care for these heat emergencies, in addition to cooling the body, includes giving liquids that are nonalcoholic and decaffeinated, and treating for shock. All foremen and superintendents are required by OSHA to be trained and certified to administer first aid attention. Violations of this requirement carry very severe penalties.

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