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    Align Technologies | May 16, 2024

    The Ultimate Guide to Construction Heat Safety

You’re probably not shocked to hear we’re on track to break heat records yet again. Each year seems to outdo the last as the “world’s warmest year.” And while you’re confident in your team’s ability to keep projects moving despite the heat, OSHA is raising a red flag.

The risk to workers has grown too dangerous. In the past year alone, dozens of construction workers have died, and many more have suffered serious heat-related injuries and illnesses. That is why, in April 2024, OSHA’s committee unanimously agreed to create a new heat standard. While OSHA is already conducting heat safety inspections under general regulations, the upcoming specific standards will be even more intensive, and there will be increased fines for repeat offenders.

This guide will help you get ahead of the heat now to protect your crews and avoid costly OSHA fines down the line.

construction heat safety

What's the status of OSHA's upcoming heat safety standard?

Today, employers are required to provide basic essentials for heat safety like water, breaks, and shade. In the coming months, OSHA will formalize a more comprehensive heat safety standard to curb the growing incidents of heat-related injuries and illnesses.

"No worker should have to get sick or die because their employer refused to provide water, or breaks to recover from high heat, or failed to act after a worker showed signs of heat illness."1

Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health | Doug Parker

OSHA  is diligently working towards a new heat safety standard that establishes more specific guidelines for businesses to follow and will be heavily enforced. OSHA is partnering with law enforcement to ensure all construction companies comply with the heat regulations.

Although OSHA's heat safety standard is not yet complete, there is a lot contractors should do now to keep crews safe, avoid OSHA fines (remember OSHA is already conducting heat safety inspections) and to be ready for the upcoming OSHA standard.

Understanding heat-related risks in construction 

The combination of working under the relentless sun, performing physically demanding tasks, and sweating through layers of PPE puts construction workers on the front lines of heat-related risks. But it's more than just discomfort crews may be feeling. Heat stress can sneak up and turn dangerous quickly. So here's what you need to know:

4 Types of heat-related illnesses

Heat-related illnesses can appear in different forms. Knowing them can be the difference between a quick recovery and a trip to the ER. Here are the top four to have on your radar:

1. Heat Stroke: This is one of the most dangerous heat-related illnesses. When your temperature spikes and your body's ability to sweat shuts down, you can't cool off naturally. This is a medical emergency.

2. Heat Exhaustion: This is when your body hits overdrive. You are drowning in sweat, your heart is racing, and you feel utterly drained. 

3. Heat Cramps: Painful muscle spasms that indicate your body is low on salt and water. 

4. Heat Rash: This skin irritation is caused by excessive sweating as your body struggles to cool down.

All of these illnesses require immediate action. Don't ignore them or try to work through them. Health and safety must be the top priority on any construction site. 

Signs of heat stress to watch for

Staying ahead of the heat means recognizing the signs early on. The longer you are exposed, the more dangerous it becomes. Pay attention to how you feel and watch for these common symptoms amongst your crew.

heat exhaustion and heat stroke symptoms

What to do if a worker experiences heat-related symptoms on the job site?

Act fast if a crew member starts showing any signs of heat-related illness. Notify your superintendent or call 911, and start these cooling measures immediately.

  • Move them to a cool, shaded area
  • Remove outer layers of clothing 
  • Apply ice packs
  • Fan or mist them with cool water
  • Give them water

These steps help the affected worker and set a precedent for quick response and care. Stay alert, stay prepared, and always prioritize safety.

How to create a heat safety plan that drives adoption

It's easy to create new rules. But will workers follow them? Most businesses make the mistake of making rules from the top down without consulting people who actually work in the field. Your crew's input is crucial. While OSHA will provide heat safety standards, your crew can elevate them. So here's what you should do:

Start with a conversation

Gather your crew for an open discussion about their experiences working under extreme temperatures. Listen actively and take every concern seriously. Including workers in safety-related conversations helps them feel heard and shows that their well-being is a priority.

questions to start a conversation about heat safety

Continuous training and education

Don't just equip your crews with the right gear. Equip them with the right information. 

Heat safety training programs are a must. Training sessions and reminders during safety moments keep everyone aware of best practices.

But you shouldn't stop there. Make heat safety a part of your company culture by keeping training materials fresh and relevant. Platforms like Safety Reports' Training app and Align EHS have hundreds of toolbox talks that provide up-to-date information. Subscribe to newsletters and visit reputable sites such as osha.gov to stay informed.

Resources to stay on top of your heat safety knowledge

1. OSHA Heat Safety: Guidelines training materials, heat safety campaigns, and updates on regulations

2. NIOSH Heat Stress: Research articles, recommendations for employers, and heat safety tools

3. CBC Heat & Health Tracker: Information on heat-related illnesses, prevention tips, and health guidelines

4. Local & State Occupational Safety Agencies: State-specific regulations and training materials

Heat safety tips that work

1. Make hydration easy

Put down the coffee and energy drinks. Water is your best friend in the heat, and staying hydrated is non-negotiable. Did you know that feeling thirsty means you’re already on the dehydration train?

construction worker drinking waterOSHA recommends drinking water every 15 minutes, even if you’re not thirsty. This might seem like a lot.  But in extreme heat, your body loses water faster than you think.

To encourage hydration, providing flavored water, electrolyte-infused beverages, or even frozen water bottles can turn the mundane act of drinking water into something your crew looks forward to. Imagine the refreshing zing of a cold, flavored drink on a sweltering day. Now that’s hydration done right.

2. Dress smarter for cool comfort

Let’s be real—working in construction means sweating a lot. Under those hard hats and safety vests, it can feel like a sauna.

But ditching your PPE? Not an option. Safety comes first, always.

Instead, let’s talk about smart choices. Lightweight, light-colored clothing can make a world of difference. People living in desert climates have used this trick for centuries. Why not apply it here?

It’s all about keeping your crew cool and comfortable without compromising on safety. Now, here’s where modern tech comes to the rescue—cooling vests.

This recent innovation is designed to keep your body temperature in check. They’re like having a personal air conditioner strapped to you. Combine that with sunscreen to protect against harmful UV rays, and you’ve got a solid plan to combat the heat.

3. Adjust work schedules to avoid peak heat

Consider these schedule adjustments based on your crew size and project timeline:

  •  Shift start times to earlier in the morning or later in the evening,
  • Offer longer midday breaks during the hottest hours, then return to work in the late afternoon or evening
  • Rotate workers through different tasks throughout the day to minimize physical exertion in the heat

Simple schedule adjustments can make a significant difference and prevent your crew from tiring out.

4. Control the heat (as much as you can)

During breaks, a nice shaded area can be a lifesaver. Pop-up tents or shade canopies provide temporary refuge from the heat. Also, consider supplying portable fans, misting systems, or even an air-conditioned trailer. 

These solutions aren't just about comfort; they maintain productivity, ensure safety, and keep morale high. It's not just about making it through the day; it's about finishing as strong as you started.

Stay Safe this Summer

With rising temperatures and the increasing frequency of record-breaking heatwaves, it’s more critical than ever to ensure the safety and well-being of your construction crews.

OSHA’s impending heat standard underscores the urgency of proactively addressing heat-related risks. By understanding the types of heat-related illnesses, recognizing the symptoms early, and implementing effective heat safety plans, you can protect your workers and maintain productivity.

Stay informed, stay prepared, and prioritize heat safety to keep your crew safe and your projects on track.

 

Written by: Align Technologies
About Align Technologies

At Align Technologies, we make construction safe, productive, and profitable. As the construction industry's first and most comprehensive operations management platform, Align Technologies’ suite of powerful tools delivers operational visibility and control that drives results. Formed in 2024, Align Technologies is powered by three innovative market leaders: ToolWatch construction management software, Safety Reports mobile safety and compliance, and busybusy time tracking.

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