It’s that time of year again. Summer is upon us and with it, intense heat. We welcome this season with open arms, as it’s our busiest time of year. But safety is also important to us, and with this heat come several possible illnesses, such as heat stress, heat stroke, dehydration, sunburn, sun poisoning, and many other disorders.
Just this weekend, for example, we are expecting a “dangerous and oppressive heat wave” (USA Today), which will begin in the Midwest and eventually make its way to us by Saturday and Sunday. Temperatures are expected to rise above 100 degrees.
During the summer, construction workers are constantly at risk for illnesses related to the heat due to “the strenuous nature of their jobs and prolonged exposure to the heat and humidity” (Construct Connect). So what can be done to avoid the inevitable? Here are some tips.
Tip #1: Hydrate
We cannot stress this enough. Hydration is one of the most important ways to prevent heat illnesses. You should have water on hand – or Gatorade, Powerarde, etc. – at all times, and you should drink at least every 15-20 minutes. Other approved beverages and foods include coconut water, juices, and fresh fruits.
Also make sure to avoid coffee, soda, and alcohol. These drinks contain diuretics, which cause dehydration. Symptoms of dehydration include “increased thirst, dry mouth and swollen tongue, inability to sweat, weakness, dizziness and decreased urine output” (Construct Connect). If you experience these symptoms, stop what you are doing immediately and take a break to rehydrate.
Tip #2: Dress Light
Tight clothing made with heavy materials will cause you to overheat. Lightweight, loose-fitting clothing made with natural fibers, such as cotton, are a better choice when working outdoors in extreme heat. This will be more breathable and will absorb moisture more easily than other fibers like polyester.
Tip #3: Use Sunscreen
This is a no-brainer, but a lot of people actually refuse or forget to use it every day. During the summer months, it is so important to wear sunscreen, even if you aren’t planning on being outside all day long. The sun is a lot stronger this time of year, and it takes almost nothing to get a burn. You can even burn in overcast weather, as ultraviolet (UV) rays can still reach you through cloud coverage. For those of us working in the sun all day, it is important that we reapply sunscreen often, and use one “that contains zinc oxide, titanium dioxide and/or avobenzone” (Construct Connect).
OSHA says, “Exposure to heat can cause heat cramps and rashes. The most serious heat-related disorders are heat stroke and heat exhaustion. Symptoms include confusion; irrational behavior; loss of consciousness; hot, dry skin; and abnormally high body temperature. Drinking cool water, reducing physical exertion, wearing appropriate clothing and regular rest periods in a cool recovery area can lessen the effects of working in summer heat.”
OSHA also says that employers are responsible for providing a safe and healthy workplace for employees. As our workplace is outdoors, there is only so much we can do. However, it is our responsibility to make sure we’re taking proper breaks, drinking water, and not overdoing it in the heat.