Beat the Heat With These Safety Tips
Summer is a great time for outdoor work, but it can be a challenging—sometimes even life-threatening—time for contractors. Excessive heat, high humidity and sun exposure pose dangers, such as sunburn, dehydration, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. It is essential that companies have policies and training in place to keep workers safe during the hot weather.
The foundation of any good heat safety program is the WRS method, which stands for water, rest, shade.
- Water – Stay hydrated by drinking cool water early and often. In addition to water, workers can drink noncaffeinated, electrolytic beverages. Workers should avoid caffeinated or sugary beverages and track their urine frequency and color throughout the day. Water intake is adequate when urine is clear or light yellow. When the desire to urinate is less than twice per day and/or you are producing a dark yellow urine, you may be dehydrated.
- Rest – Know your limits and take time to adequately rest and recover between tasks. Management should rearrange schedules to accommodate weather conditions when possible. You can also consider rotating job functions among workers to minimize overexertion and heat exposure.
- Shade – Move to a shaded or cool area for 15 minutes to significantly drop your body’s core temperature. If no shade is present, consider setting up a pop-up shelter or having an indoor cool-down area. Use cooling fans whenever possible but avoid repeatedly going in and out of air conditioning as it will make it harder to adjust to the heat.
Now that you know the basics, here are some additional steps to take to keep workers safe in the summer heat.
- Wear Protective Clothing – Light-colored, loose-fitting, breathable clothing made from natural materials will help protect workers from the heat and sun. Glasses with UV protection, sunscreen and brimmed hard hats can also help keep workers safe.
- Take It Slow – Gradually build up to heavy work so workers’ bodies have time to acclimate. In one OSHA report, nearly 80% of heat-related illnesses involved workers who had been on the job for four or fewer days. And, if possible, do the hardest work during the coolest time of the day.
- Choose Your Lunch Carefully– Eat light and nutritious lunches that include fruits, vegetables and salads. To avoid overeating at lunchtime, try to eat a bigger breakfast that is high in protein.
- Have Each Other’s’ Backs – Keep an eye on your coworkers and be alert for signs of heat exhaustion. If you notice symptoms of severe heat illness in yourself or others, call 911 immediately and keep the person cool until help arrives. Do not continue working if you feel ill.
- Check the Heat Index – Humidity plays a big role in heat-related illnesses because sweat isn’t evaporated as effectively when there’s a lot of moisture in the air. There are various ways to calculate the heat index, including OSHA’s Heat Safety Tool. Use OSHA’s risk-level chart to plan the day’s activities.