The dangers of working in the heat
Although the summer weather comes as a very welcome change to most of us, the summer heat brings along with it a variety of hazards, especially to those who are working outdoors exposed to the heat. The industries most affected by the summer heat, or indeed by any atmospheric conditions are those which carry out physically strenuous work outdoors, with construction and agricultural industries springing quickly to mind. It is unsurprising that these industries have the highest number of work related accidents, many of them involving heavy machinery.
As plant and tool hire specialists, Paragon tool hire are very much aware of the health and safety hazards in the construction industry, especially when working outdoors in the summer heat with plant and tools.
As such we have put together this guide to the most common health conditions caused by “heat stress” as well as a code of practice to help identify, prevent or eliminate possible heat related hazards from your construction project.
WHAT IS HEAT STRESS?
Heat stress refers to a number of different medical conditions, all of which are caused by excessive exposure to heat.
Excessive heat can be the result of a number of different factors: physical exertion, atmospheric temperature, working closely to a heat source, high humidity and insulating clothing are all factors that increase the body’s temperature. Working in the heat can be at best, uncomfortable and at worst extremely dangerous. The following physical conditions are caused by heat exposure and should be dealt with as soon as they are detected:
Dehydration: Dehydration can occur when the body eliminates more fluid than it replenishes. Symptoms include: headaches, drowsiness and low blood pressure.
To avoid dehydration drink plenty of fluids but avoid beverages containing alcohol or caffeine as they have a dehydrating effect.
Sunburn: Sunburn is caused by excessive exposure to UV rays.
Symptoms include: red, irritated and painful skin.
To treat sunburn keep the skin cool and moisturised and avoid further exposure to the sun until the condition subsides.
Heat Rash (Miliaria Rubra): Heat rash is caused by sweat accumulating under the skin and being unable to evaporate.
Symptoms include: a blotchy rash with slightly elevated bumps on the skin.
Any worker suffering from heat rash should get away from the heat and sit in a cool, shaded environment. Heat rash can be treated with cool showers and keeping the skin clean, cool and dry so as to avoid infection.
Heat Cramps: Heat cramps are caused by the body losing fluids and salts at a faster rate than they can be replenished.
Symptoms include: Spasms in large muscles, typically the abdomen, back, arms or legs as well as hardened lumps in the muscles.
Anyone suffering from heat cramps, should stop work immediately, sit down somewhere cool and rehydrate.
As the cramps subside, stretch and massage the affected area and rest until fully recovered.
Heat Exhaustion: Heat exhaustion is caused by prolonged exposure to excessive heat and marks the point at which the body is struggling to regulate its own temperature.
Symptoms include: dizziness, high temperature, weakness, headaches, fatigue, nausea or vomiting, muscle cramps and fainting.
Anyone showing signs of heat exhaustion should be moved to a cool area and helped to cool down and rehydrate. If no signs of improvement are seen within 15 minutes or if the condition deteriorates, contact the emergency services as it is possible that heat stroke may have set in.
Heatstroke: Heatstroke occurs when excessive heat exposure causes the body’s core temperature to reach 40 degrees centigrade. This is the temperature at which the body’s natural temperature control systems can no longer self regulate.
Symptoms include: headaches, fainting, nausea and vomiting, confusion, delirium, seizures, dizziness and impaired coordination.
Heat stroke can be life threatening or seriously debilitating. Should you detect the symptoms of heat stroke in a colleague phone an ambulance immediately, move them to a cool place and help them to rehydrate and cool down by any means available.
What can companies do to combat heat stress and promote safety working in the summer heat?
By far the best tactics for a company to follow are awareness, planning and training.
HR and management should consult with the team on the ground to gain an appreciation for the specific working conditions that the workers endure and rapidly propose and implement solutions that increase worker comfort and job site safety.
Plan work around the heat:
This may involve planning for certain tasks to be carried out during the coolest parts of the day, such as early in the morning or in the late afternoon. Depending on the site location it may also mean that teams may be moved to a more sheltered or North facing part during the hotter times of the day.
When this type of work scheduling isn’t possible, shorter worker shifts and more frequent breaks are extremely important.
Provide adequate welfare facilities:
Ensure that your site meets all legal requirements for worker welfare by providing appropriate rest areas, toilet and canteen facilities as well as abundant water.
Provide adequate PPE:
Personal protective equipment that is appropriate for the working conditions should always be provided by the employer. Make sure that everyone on your team has the equipment that they need and that it’s suitable for working in the heat.
Provide specific training:
Train all team members in identifying the signs of heat stress in themselves and in colleagues and make sure that all team members understand the risks involved and the importance of taking action quickly in the advent of any cases.
et feedback from the team on the ground:
All too often decisions regarding site welfare are made from the comfort of an air conditioned office by people who rarely visit a job site. Be sure to get genuine feedback from the teams onsite as regards their working conditions so that management decisions are taking the workers’ experience into account.
Provide equipment that reduces physical exertion:
Introducing mini diggers to reduce manual digging, dumpers for moving material around the site or any other plant equipment or tools that can reduce the physical effort for tasks will improve workers' physical tolerance to heat. It is important to remember that all too frequently the effects of heat stress can be downplayed. Heat stress can be an important hazard on a construction site where there are already pre-existing risks of falls from height, impact by objects and the possibility of accidents involving power tools and heavy machinery.
Fortunately Paragon Tool Hire can provide all the plant and tools for your next construction project as well as helping with useful tips for working outside in the heat to make your summer job site safer. If you are interested in tool or plant hire in Buckingham, get in touch with Paragon today. We stock an extensive range of equipment and machinery for a wide variety of construction projects.
For information on our products and services, call today on 01280822282 to speak to a member of our expert team.