Canadian Contractor

John Bleasby   

Summer heat: Too much of a good thing?

Canadian Contractor

Workers and supervisors must work together to understand and mitigate the risks

Here’s a scary statistic from the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Association: an investigation of over two dozen heat-related incidents on work sites involved workers on their first day, and over 80 per cent involved workers who had only been on the job for no more than four days.

Newly recruited workers may be trying to impress their new bosses and co-workers by showing a high work ethic. Nevertheless, it should never come to this, for either new or seasoned employees. Sure, summer is peak season for outdoor construction, and the pressure is on. However, employers and employees together must understand the risks and take steps to ensure that no one becomes a victim to heat stroke or more serious collapse.

Body sweat is natural. The trouble starts when the body runs out of water to sweat.

Here’s what happens to the body…
The body tries to maintain a constant 98.6 degree body temperature by sweating to cool itself. Problems occur when sweating isn’t enough. The body attempts to reabsorb fluids from the blood and other tissues. Heat rashes might be the first sign of a problem —clusters that might appear as pimples or blisters in areas that normally are sweaty. When heat cramps in the legs or the abdominal area, nausea, dizziness, weakness and confusion are observed, a serious problem is at hand.

Here’s what to do when a co-worker is over-heated…
Move them to a cooler, shaded area.
Make them drink water
Apply wet towels to their neck, face and head
If symptoms worsen or don’t respond, call for medical attention. Every minute counts.


Here’s how to avoid the problem before it even happens…

Drink water
It may seem obvious, however many  workers forget to drink until they are thirsty. By then they could already be dehydrated. Drinking water should start and continue throughout the day. And avoid caffeine loaded drinks. They make matters worse. Stick to the H-2-O!

A simple solution for all the crew. A hydration station and some shade.

Eat good food
Don’t eat as much lunch on the really hot days. It’s one way to avoid the ‘post lunch dip’, that drop in energy that can occur after a meal.  And avoid greasy foods altogether, like fries.

Dress appropriately
Leave the heavy construction overalls at home on the hot days. Invest in lighter weight work gear for those hot days. A cooling bandana is a good thought too. Dip it in water every so often to keep your neck and head cool. And don’t forget your wide-brimmed hat or construction helmet as the job dictates.

Employers have a key role to play

All of the above tips, and the many more that are out there on the internet, should be reinforced at the management and supervisory level. Training to avoid heat related problems goes hand-in-hand with recognizing them when they occur.

  • If a week of really hot weather is forecast, consider scheduling unshaded work to the first and last few hours of the work day, thus avoiding the sun’s maximum mid-day power.
  • Investigate ways how work in the open can be protected from the sun’s direct rays with a temporary sun screen.
  • Allow more rest periods during the hot days, and provide a tent or awning for a hydration station where workers can escape the sun.
  • If feasible, consider bring fans to the site to provide some relief.
  • And if it comes to it, decide on an upper heat limit for temperatures and send the team home if it’s exceeded. No one works at peak efficiency in the extreme heat.

Crews have a responsibility to take the appropriate personal measures to look after themselves and to keep key an eye on fellow-workers. Employers have an obligation to keep the health and safety of their team foremost in their minds. It’s a team effort.

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