Homo sapiens are one of the most flexible species on earth. Our intelligence allows us to thrive within a wide range of temperatures. Still, we have our limits. If a person works outside in hot conditions without taking special precautions, heat illness (AKA sunstroke) may arise. As summer wears on, outdoor workers, including demolition and asset recovery contractors, must take care to avoid heat illness.
When the body can no longer cool down with sweat, heat illness occurs. Every year, thousands of workers become ill and some even die after working outside in the heat. In 2012, there were 4,120 documented cases of heat illnesses among laborers, and 31 died from heat-related maladies. Employers have a responsibility to prevent such worksite tragedies. Today we’re taking a look at how demolition and salvage workers can prevent heat illnesses on job sites.
Stay Cool: Preventing Heat Illness on Demolition Sites
Acclimatize. New workers are especially at risk for heat illness, as their bodies have not yet built up a tolerance for working in scorching temperatures. As Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for OSHA explains, “Acclimatization is a physical change that the body undergoes to build tolerance to heat…Over the past three years, lack of acclimatization was the cause in 74% of heat-related citations issued.” To acclimatize, new and temporary workers should gradually increase heat exposure. Frequent water breaks and rest in the shade are also advised. Managers must massage work schedules to ensure new and temp workers don’t receive too much heat exposure, too quickly. It’s also a good idea to have backup workers available if a heat injury should occur.
Monitor Heat Levels on Work Sites. OSHA has created a free mobile app that allows supervisors and workers to watch the heat index at their construction sites. The application also delivers a risk level based on the heat index, and it includes information on how to prevent heat illness. Available in both English and Spanish, the app may be downloaded here.
Train Workers on how to Recognize and Prevent Heat Illness. If every worker on a demolition site is aware of heat dangers, it’s possible to prevent heat illness. By keeping an eye on each other and looking for the symptoms of heat distress, workers can help each other avoid sickness. If someone begins displaying signs of heat illness (dry, hot skin; excessive sweating; chills; a pounding headache; dizziness/confusion; slurred speech; hallucinations; muscle cramps; and/or shallow, fast breathing), it’s important to get him into a shaded area, where water may be administered slowly. Remove excess clothing and place ice packs in the groin and under the armpits, if ice is available. Soaking clothing with water is another option. Fanning the individual can also help. If the person does not show signs of recovery, a hospital visit is necessary. In the case of heat stroke, it’s best to call 911 just to be safe.
Also train workers on these basic tips on avoiding heat stroke:
- Drink water every 15 minutes, even if you don’t seem thirsty.
- Wear light-colored clothing and a hat.
- Allow yourself to get used to the heat – don’t push yourself too hard as your body acclimates.
- Rest in the shade regularly to cool down your body.
- Watch out for fellow workers, and know what to do in an emergency.
The mantra outdoor laborers should repeat to themselves is “Shade, Rest, Water.” These three key ingredients can go a long way in avoiding heat illness. Contractor supervisors must also educate workers on what to do if a heat related emergency occurs. OSHA offers various educational resources on heat illness to help managers prepare crews for hot spells.