Construction workers laboring under the hot sun are a common sight in California. Their physical exertion combined with hot temperatures enhances their risk of heat stress and heat-related injuries (HRI). HRIs frequently send workers to emergency rooms. Conditions like heat stroke can be disabling or fatal. Employers have a big role to play in educating their workers about heat stress risks and introducing safety protocols to prevent heat stress.
Heat stress risks
Soaring temperatures make it difficult for the human body to expel internal heat faster than it accumulates. Working in the direct sun worsens the risk because the solar energy bakes directly into workers’ bodies.
Most construction workers have to wear thick clothing and other protective gear. Their coveralls, boots or helmets trap heat against their bodies. This can be a problem even when temperatures are not extreme. An additional threat comes from heat sources like welding equipment or hot road tar application machines.
How employers can protect workers from heat
Everyone has an interest in reducing construction worker injuries. To accomplish this, construction companies need to pay attention to the temperature and humidity. Hotter conditions call for more breaks for workers. New workers require additional monitoring because they are not acclimated to hot work. They are most at risk for HRIs and should start with light duties.
Workers laboring in the direct sun or hot spaces, like an attic, need frequent breaks in a cool area. Ideally, the break area will have air conditioning, but shade is better than nothing. Employers need to encourage and enable hydration by making water available and making sure each worker knows to take multiple drinks per hour. A basin of cool water for workers to bath their hands and arms in also combats heat stress.