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Toolbox Talk No. 14 - Heat Stress

Toolbox Talk No. 14 - Heat Stress

It’s summertime, and that means longer days, no school, and the 4th of July. For many, it’s a fun, enjoyable time of year, but as construction workers, we need to remember that with summer comes heat. Heat can be dangerous, with the potential to cause illness, injury, and even death. Today on Toolbox Talks, we will discuss heat stress and what you can do to keep yourself and your team safe in the summer heat.

The Basics of Heat Stress

Heat stress is a severe illness that can cause rashes, cramps, exhaustion, and in the worst-case scenarios, death. Every year about 15 construction workers die of heat exhaustion. It happens when there is a buildup of body heat produced internally from muscle use or externally from outdoor temperature. During construction in the summer months, typically, both of these occur. You are working hard, and the outdoor temperatures are rising. You might also find yourself wearing waterproof clothing, which further exacerbates body heat buildup because it lacks breathability.

Heat exhaustion can happen to anyone, but certain risk factors might make you more likely to get sick. If you are overweight, have heart disease or high blood pressure, you are at an increased risk. Additionally, if you take allergy medication, decongestants, or blood pressure medication, you need to be extra cautious around heat.

Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion

Heat-related illness range widely, but we have compiled a chart to help you correctly and safely identify heat illnesses and treat them accordingly.

Heat Related Illness

Symptoms

Treatment

Heat Rash

Rash (tiny red spots) & General Discomfort

Apply cream or powder. Change your clothes.

Heat Cramps

Painful spasms in the body. Often located in the abdomen, but they can be in the back and legs as well.

Get some electrolytes in your body using any of the following methods: electrolyte tablets, electrolyte drinks, salty foods such as chips.

Heat Exhaustion

Dizziness, Nausea, Vomiting Heavy Sweating, Visual Disturbances, Intense Thirst, Breathlessness, Palpitations, Numbing and Tingling of the hands and feet, Ringing in ears, Headaches, Fatigue & Muscle Weakness or Cramps

Move to a shaded or air-conditioned area. Rest and drink lots of water.

Heat Syncope

Giddiness and Fainting

Move to a shaded or air-conditioned area. Rest and drink lots of water.

Heat Stroke

Extreme Body Temperature (above 104 degrees), Altered Behavior, Loss of Consciousness, Seizures, Disorientation, & Red, Dry Skin

Call 911. Move to a shaded or air-conditioned area. Remove or loosen clothes and wipe skin with cool water. Fan them with any material available.

 

Heat exhaustion is a severe hazard when working construction. Not only can heat make you sick, but it can also increase the risk of other injuries. Your glasses could fog up, making you unable to see. Your hands could become so sweaty that you can’t hold on correctly to your hand tools. Beyond that, heat slows your productivity by causing fatigue, leading to lower job performance.

All this being said, fear not! Now that you know what to look for, you are ready to combat heat stress before it becomes critical. With proper preparations, there are ways to protect yourself and your fellow workers from the heat.

How to Prevent Heat Stress

Previously, OSHA recommended that employers screen their workers for heat stress at 91 degrees, but recently, the CDC has changed that recommendation to 85 degrees. We recommend following the CDC guideline and start checking employees at 85 degrees. During these routine examinations, monitor heart rate and body temperature. It is always better to be safe than sorry.

In addition to checking employees regularly, OSHA requires that employers provide three necessary preventative measures to protect employees.

  • First, cold water must be provided to workers. Drinking said water should be encouraged. One cup every 15 minutes is the minimum amount to prevent heat exhaustion.
  • Second, shade or a cool environment must be accessible to workers for breaks.
  • Lastly, workers should be allowed to take frequent breaks, and workers who are experiencing mild heat exhaustion symptoms should be granted additional breaks.

As an employer, be sure you provide these basic measures to help keep your workers safe. If you are a worker, take advantage of your water and breaks – drinking adequate amounts of water could save your life.

Employers can provide additional measures to ensure safety during the heat. We have a few suggestions that will keep your and your workers safe from the heat.

  • Schedule heavy work during the coolest part of the day, typically early morning.
  • Allow workers to get used to the heat with gradual exposure over five days.
  • Provide additional breaks for workers wearing personal protective equipment, such as a full-body harness or Tyvek suit.
  • Rotate workers so that breaks don’t feel like they are slowing down your workflow.
  • Advise your workers to wear lightweight clothing.
  • Add extra workers to limit exposure for each worker.
  • Provide drinks or drink packets with electrolytes such as Liquid IV or Gatorade

 Employees should take the following measures to protect themselves each day.

  • Eat well: breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with 5-8 servings of fruit and vegetables per day.
  • Get plenty of sleep: 8 hours are generally recommended.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol the night before a hot job.
  • Drink some water every 15 minutes. Frequent, smaller drinks are more effective for hydration than one large gulp.
  • Avoid caffeine. If you feel tired, try a few stretches to wake yourself up.
  • Take your breaks! They are for your benefit.
  • Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing. Cotton is often a great option.
  • Apply sunscreen. Before work, apply to any exposed skin. Reapply when needed.

Thank you so much for reviewing heat exhaustion, its symptoms, and preventive measures you can take as an employer or employee. We hope you have a wonderful summer full of fun, fireworks, and health! Bookmark this page for any and all of your hot jobs. If you have any stories of working in heat, please share it below.

Wishing you a happy and safe workplace,

WRYKER's Safety Team

 

 

 

Next article Toolbox Talk No. 13 - Skylights and Roof Openings

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