The construction sector comes with inherent hazards — some of which are more likely to happen during the summer. Here are some of the most prevalent dangers to stay on alert for during that season:
1. Heat Exhaustion
Excessive exposure to hot weather can become dangerous, especially if the heat makes the body temperature rise to a critical level. Rachel Katch of the Korey Stringer Institute at the University of Connecticut gave an interview to the fitness website Aaptiv to talk more about what happens in the body during heat exhaustion. She explained:
“Your heart is having difficulty providing enough oxygenated blood to your working organs. When you’re exercising, most of your blood is taken away from your gut and your organs and is moved to your biggest organ, which is your skin. [Your skin] helps with the evaporation process of heat dissipation from the body.”
However, when people engage in intensive exertion during high-heat conditions, this can put oxygenated blood in short supply. Then, the skin becomes ineffective. Moreover, the cardiovascular system does not have the necessary oxygen to continue engaging in the exertion that happens as a person works on a construction site.
Some of the most common symptoms of heat exhaustion include muscle cramping, nausea and dizziness. Others may also notice that the affected individual is sweating heavily or has a fast and weak pulse. When people experience these signs, they must take prompt action to prevent their condition from worsening.
Some steps they can take include:
- Drinking plenty of water or sports drinks via small sips.
- Sitting in an air-conditioned environment.
- Taking a cold shower or using cool compresses.
- Removing tight clothing or unnecessary layers.
Most people with heat exhaustion recover without professional medical attention, especially when following the tips above. However, if the symptoms get worse or persist for longer than an hour, or the person begins vomiting, someone should call 911.
You can think of heatstroke as the more extreme form of heat exhaustion. If a person does not act quickly to treat the signs of heat exhaustion, the condition can progress to heatstroke. In that case, the person’s body temperature may rise to 103 degrees Fahrenheit or above, and they’ll likely have a strong, rapid pulse. Some people suffering from heatstroke also stop sweating, and their skin becomes red and dry. This ailment also causes confusion, and individuals may lose consciousness.
Your immediate actions to help someone with heatstroke are to:
- Dial 911: Heatstroke is a medical emergency.
- Avoid giving the person anything to drink: Health experts recommend other approaches to cool the body.
After bearing the two things above in mind, you can take further steps, including some of the same ones used to assist someone with heat exhaustion. These include:
- Moving the person to a cooler place, such as an air-conditioned building.
- Using cold compresses or cold baths to lower body temperature.
Preventing Heat Exhaustion and Heatstroke
Knowing the signs of these two heat-related illnesses is one valuable aspect of keeping them from becoming severe. If people learn to recognize the warning signs quickly and tell supervisors they’re suffering from these symptoms, they’re more likely to avoid complications.
Keeping people safe on construction sites in the summer also means construction site managers must be open to doing things differently to reduce the chances of heat-related sicknesses becoming problematic for their teams.
For example, supervisors might alter start times to let people begin their shifts earlier and avoid the hottest parts of a day. They may also have people do the most physically intensive tasks in short cycles, decreasing the likelihood of the overexertion that can trigger heat exhaustion.
Worksites should also have shaded areas, tents or air-conditioned rooms where people can go to take breaks. If employers also provide water and keep it visible to people on their shifts, workers will be more likely to consume it.
Dehydration happens when individuals use or lose more fluid than they ingest. Then, the body has difficulty functioning normally, which requires a person to increase their fluid intake as quickly as possible. Many people don’t realize that dehydration can start when the body loses as little as 2% of its overall water composition — which is usually 60%.
It also surprises them that a wide variety of factors can make a person especially prone to dehydration. Those things include:
- Regular alcohol consumption: Alcohol makes it more difficult for the body to absorb water.
- Older age: Being of old age can make the body less able to retain water and affect thirst-recognition abilities.
- Diet: Foods like soda and salty foods absorb water meant for the body.
- Altitude: Higher altitudes can increase the amount of water a person needs.
- Medication: Certain pharmaceutical products can increase dehydration risk.
The easiest and most effective way to fight dehydration is to maintain frequent and sufficient water intake. Construction sites should provide bottled water or places where people can fill up containers.
Construction workers may want to consider using hydration bladders during their longest shifts. Their role may not allow for wearing that gear on the body, but a person could at least keep the product nearby. The generous capacity of many models on the market means people don’t need to fill them up as often, even when drinking fluid throughout a day.
It’s also ideal for workplace training to include education on the signs of dehydration. Those include:
- Infrequent urination.
- Strong-smelling, darker yellow urine.
Once people know the signs, they’ll be more alert for problems associated with themselves or their team members.
4. Bites and Stings
Many insects and biting creatures are most active during the warm weather. Ticks, mosquitos, bees, scorpions and venomous spiders are some of the biggest risks construction crews may encounter. Snakes could be problematic in some areas, especially when teams work near wooded locations.
The signs of and treatment for bites and stings vary depending on the offending creature. It’s vital to seek medical advice for issues such as bites by a suspected venomous spider or snake. However, people can look out for some broad telltale signs, which include:
- Redness or a rash.
- Bumps or hives.
- Sudden pain on the skin.
In many less-severe cases, people can treat their bites and stings at home. An over-the-counter painkiller can alleviate bee stings, whereas topical anti-itch creams can relieve the discomfort of mosquito bites. People should contact their physicians if bites and stings worsen, or if they notice unusual related symptoms. For example, a tick bite can turn into a bullseye-like rash if the condition progresses to Lyme disease.
Prevention of Bites and Stings
The site inspections performed by construction managers should include checks for things like wasp nests. Construction crew members should also learn how to report worrisome signs, such as evidence of scorpions nesting under rocks or piles of wood.
When a person gets hired at a construction site, the forms associated with their employment should include any known allergies to biting or stinging creatures. Anyone who has a severe allergy and uses an epinephrine pen to treat it should bring that item to work every day. It won’t prevent bites or stings but helps the affected person avoid complications.
Topical bug repellents can also make stings and bites less likely to happen. People who use them should take care to avoid over-application that could affect their grip. For example, applying a cream-based repellent and not washing the hands afterward could make the palms greasy. Following the product directions and allowing time for absorption are best practices to follow.
Proactiveness Avoids Problems
This overview gives a timely reminder that the warmer weather of summer brings special considerations for construction workers along with it. Employees and their supervisors must work together to engage in proactive behaviors that make complications less likely. The preventive measures listed here are excellent starting points, but it’s also smart to learn about local or regional threats that may crop up during the season.