Summertime can be brutal for construction workers. Excessive heat and sun exposure pose significant dangers, such as sunburn, dehydration, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke.
Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness and can result in permanent injury or even death. Heat stroke occurs when your body’s core temperature rises above 104°F (40°C) and the body is no longer able to regulate itself. Sweating stops as this no longer helps relieve the body of heat and the person becomes confused, disoriented, and may lose consciousness.
Heat exhaustion has many similar symptoms to heat stroke but is differentiated by the presence sweat. If the person is sweating profusely, this means their body can still get rid of heat this way, and they are likely suffering from heat exhaustion. If not treated immediately, heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke.
Heat cramps are muscle cramping in the legs, arms, or abdomen and are typically caused by lack of hydration or inadequate electrolytes in the system. Heat cramps can be treated with rest and hydration.
Sunburn is when the skin becomes hot and painful to the touch after unprotected exposure to the sun. Sunburns are preventable by using sunscreen, wearing clothing that covers the skin, and staying out of the sun.
The best way to beat the heat is to avoid it, but for many workers this isn’t an option.
A good way to keep yourself safe from heat illness while working outdoors is to acclimatize your body to the heat. To do this, start by working only an hour or two outside on the first day and gradually increase the amount of time you’re spending outside
More Tips for preventing heat-related illness when working outdoors:
Drink water or other noncaffeinated, electrolytic beverages frequently
Wear light-colored, loose-fitting, breathable clothing made from natural materials such as cotton. Avoid wearing non-breathing, synthetic clothing. Wear safety glasses with UV protection, sunscreen, and brimmed hard hats.
Gradually build up to heavy work. If possible, do the hardest work during the coolest time of the day. Workers who are suddenly exposed to working in a hot environment face additional hazards to their health and safety.
Take more breaks in extreme heat and humidity. Move to the shade or a cool area such as an air-conditioned building or car when possible, but try not to go in and out of air conditioning too much as it will make it harder for you to adjust to the heat. Use cooling fans whenever possible.
Select your lunch carefully. Junk food is high in fat and preservatives and will put a high caloric load on the digestive system. Try eating a bigger breakfast, so you're not as hungry at lunch. Eat light lunches that include fruits, vegetables, and salads.
Keep an eye on your coworkers and be alert for signs of heat exhaustion. Early symptoms include lethargy, disorientation, stumbling, dropping tools, slurred speech, or unresponsiveness. Heat stroke is a medical emergency requiring a 911 call and immediate cooling.
Check your urine frequency and color throughout the day. Water intake is adequate when urine is clear or light yellow.