Overcoming Heat Stress on Site

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Construction workers are often exposed to heat stress due to the amount of time spent outdoors. Workers on a construction site are most often involved in activities that generate heat such as welding and heavy machinery. These in conjunction with the heat of the sun can form a deadly combination that results in workers suffering from heat strokes, heat exhaustion, heat cramps or heat rashes.

Workers who operate heavy tools or machinery may suffer from sweaty palms which can increase their risk of slipping and causing injury. Foggy safety glasses may impair vision and cause dizziness in workers.

Some construction workers are at a greater risk than others due to their age, weight or other factors such as heart conditions, high blood pressure or medication that may make them prone to heat related illness.

Employers have a duty to provide education about the dangers of working in the sun and heat and how these dangers can be minimised. Even workers who work on a confined construction site with little or no airconditioning and ventilation are at risk of heat related hazards. These workers should be educated on how to protect themselves from heat exhaustion and other consequences.

Possible Effects of Heat:

Heat Stroke is undoubtedly the most common and dangerous heat related side effect that is as a result of the body’s temperature rising too quickly. The body is unable to cool itself and the ability to sweat fails resulting in a heat stroke. This is dangerous because it can result in death or irreparable damage to the body.

Workers should look out for the following symptoms in themselves or co-workers:  Either dry skin from inability to sweat or profuse sweating, hallucinations, chills, throbbing headache, high body temperature, confusion/dizziness and slurred speech.

If you notice a co-worker with these symptoms move them immediately to a cool, shaded area. If possible soak their clothes in cool water and attempt to bring down their body temperature. Shower them or spray them with cool water or fan them while you wait for medical attention to arrive.

Heat Exhaustion is another possibility. It is caused when the body responds to the excessive loss of water and salt through perspiring. It is most common in workers who have a history of high blood pressure but anyone in an extremely hot environment can suffer from heat exhaustion, especially workers who are undertaking strenuous physical labour like construction workers do.

Those construction workers suffering from heat exhaustion may display signs such as heavy sweating, extreme weakness, dizziness, confusion, nausea, moist skin, flushed complexion, muscle cramps, elevated body temperature and fast shallow breathing.

The same treatment can be administered as with sufferers of heat stroke, move them to a cool, shady area, shower them with cool water and make them drink cool water.

Heat Syncope is another dangerous effect of working the heat of the sun.  It is characterised by fainting or dizziness. It normally happens when workers stand for too long in the sun or arise suddenly from a sitting or lying down position. The body become dehydrated and is not able to acclimatize resulting in fainting.

If you feel light headed or dizzy after a prolonged period in the sun, you may be about to faint. Sit down or lie in a cool place and drink water to hydrate yourself.

Heat cramps are a less serious consequence of heat exposure and normally affects workers who are involved in strenuous activity such as those involved in construction work, causing the worker to sweat profusely. This sweating diminishes the salts and water in the body and causes the muscles to cramp. It can occur in the abdomen, arms or legs and construction workers are particularly prone to this type of hazard. So if you feel these symptoms coming on, take a break in a cool, shaded area. Drink water, juice or a sports beverage to rehydrate you.

Employers can take precautions to prevent workers from falling victim to these conditions. Ensure workers have a cool, shaded place to take breaks and provide water for them to drink. Also ensure workers are equipped with the appropriate personal protective equipment for working in the hot Sumer months.

Employers can attempt acclimatize workers by exposing them for progressively longer periods to hot work environments. Start with a short time in the heat and increase slightly.

Employers should also reduce the physical demands of workers in Sumer and when the sun os at its peak at midday. Relief workers can casual workers can be brought in hotter months to share the work load and alleviate some of the demand on workers.

Monitor workers health, especially those who are at risk of heat stress. Also as part of the site training, educate workers about the dangers of heat stress and the precautions they need to take to overcome them.