Sunshine and clear skies are here! Every year, outdoor work ramps up in the drier weather. Ditching a desk job to work outside often tops the list of things construction workers love about their jobs. But spending months under the hot summer sun can also present specific dangers to construction workers.

Learn the signs of heat stress and get familiar with your team’s heat safety plan to keep yourself and your crewmembers safe this season.

We’re all responsible for each other

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 20 construction workers die each year from heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Construction laborers not only work long hours outdoors, but also often wear heavy protective clothing and work near heat sources such as engines or hot asphalt.

It’s extremely important that workers and their supervisors know the signs of heat-related illnesses and learn the best ways to prevent them. Before you get to work this season, make sure you’re familiar with your crew’s heat safety plan — and your role in it. While supervisors are in charge of setting up a safe work environment, you share the responsibility for yourself and your coworkers when it comes to recognizing signs of heat stress.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Heat Illness Prevention Campaign focuses on three words to remember: Water. Rest. Shade. Heat safety starts with making sure you’re hydrated, taking adequate rest breaks, and cooling down whenever possible — and encouraging your work crew to do the same.

What is heat-related illness?

The most common serious illnesses are heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Know the signs:

Heat exhaustion

  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Cramps

Heat stroke

  • Skin rash
  • High temperature
  • Confusion
  • Fainting
  • Convulsions

Who is at risk?

While anyone who works in hot conditions is susceptible to heat stress, there are personal and environmental factors that can increase your chances of becoming ill.

You may be particularly at risk if:

  • You have a medical condition or take a medication that increases heat and light sensitivity.
  • You use substances such as alcohol, caffeine, nicotine and other drugs.
  • You wear heavy clothing and protective gear.
  • You spend excessive amounts of time in direct sunlight or near heat sources.
  • You perform strenuous tasks without adequate rest.
  • Your body has not acclimated to work in hot conditions.

Beyond water, rest and shade, one simple preventative measure is wearing lightweight, breathable and light-colored clothing whenever possible. If you must wear heavy protective equipment on the job, make sure you’re taking more frequent breaks to cool down.

Acclimatization, or gradual exposure, is also an effective way to reduce heat stress. At the beginning of a heat wave or after a period of rest away from work, start slow. It can take at least five days and up to two weeks to fully acclimate to hot conditions.

What if I notice symptoms?

Report signs or symptoms immediately if you notice them in yourself or in a coworker. Talk to your supervisor about where and how to report and what to do during a heat-related emergency.

Symptoms can progress quickly. If a supervisor isn’t available, get to a cool, shaded area as fast as possible, rest, and drink water. If a coworker is unresponsive, call 911 right away.

Stay safe. Love your job.

Following a few simple safety measures can make sure you continue to thrive in what you love doing: Spending time outside, working with your body and your hands to build and improve the world we live in.

Ready to think beyond the cubicle? Contact NWLETT to find out more about our paid construction apprenticeships.

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