As unpredictable as the weather is in the Maryland area, heat threats are real, especially for construction workers. The key, say health experts, is to gradually expose workers to hot summer conditions, with ample breaks, rather than putting the strain of strenuous work on the body out of the blue. Much like an athlete builds up stamina, construction workers will gradually become acclimated to hot, humid conditions.
Here we break down the symptoms and hazards of working outside this summer.
Heat stroke, the most serious form of heat-related illness, happens when the body becomes unable to regulate its core temperature. Sweating stops and the body can no longer rid itself of excess heat. Signs include confusion, loss of consciousness, and seizures. Heat stroke can be fatal and immediate medical attention is required.
Heat exhaustion is the body’s response to loss of water and salt from heavy sweating. Signs include headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, irritability, thirst, and heavy sweating.
Heat cramps are caused by the loss of body salts and fluid during sweating. Low salt levels in muscles cause painful cramps. Tired muscles—those used for performing the work—are usually the ones most affected by cramps. Cramps may occur during or after working hours.
Heat rash, also known as prickly heat, is skin irritation caused by sweat that does not evaporate from the skin. Heat rash is the most common problem in hot work environments.
Prevention and safety are always the best defense, including:
- Employers should have an emergency plan in place that specifies what to do if a worker has signs of heat-related illness, and ensures that medical services are available if needed.
- Workers must have adequate water close to the work area, and should drink small amounts frequently.
- Rather than being exposed to heat for extended periods of time, workers should, wherever possible, be permitted to distribute the workload evenly over the day and incorporate work/rest cycles.
- If possible, physical demands should be reduced during hot weather, or heavier work scheduled for cooler times of the day.
- Rotating job functions among workers can help minimize overexertion and heat exposure.
- Workers should watch out for each other for symptoms of heat-related illness and administer appropriate first aid to anyone who is developing a heat-related illness.
For more information about safety practices in hot weather conditions, contact our offices at Diversified Safety Services.