Protecting Construction Workers From Heat-related Illnesses
As summer approaches and temperatures rise, construction employers must safeguard their employees against heat-related hazards. After all, workers who spend extended periods of time in hot or humid environments are at greater risk of experiencing heat-related illnesses, such as heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heatstroke. Here’s a breakdown of these illnesses:
- Heat cramps—Known as the mildest heat-related illness, this condition is characterized by intense muscle cramps or spasms that arise from an individual exerting themselves and sweating amid hot temperatures.
- Heat exhaustion—This condition, which is more severe than heat cramps, stems from a loss of water and salt within the body. It typically occurs after an individual sweats excessively in extreme heat without adequate hydration, thus preventing their body from cooling itself. Symptoms of heat exhaustion may include headache, nausea and fatigue.
- Heatstroke—If left untreated, heat exhaustion may progress into heatstroke. This condition is the most severe heat-related illness. Symptoms of heatstroke may include confusion, rapid heart rate, lethargy, stupor, seizures and loss of consciousness. Heatstroke is a life-threatening emergency that could lead to death.
If their employees are exposed to high temperatures while working, construction employers should be sure to establish heat-related illness prevention programs. These programs should incorporate the following measures for safeguarding workers:
- Provide employees with ample rest, water and shade on the job.
- Allow workers to build their tolerance for working in the heat with proper acclimatization procedures.
- Train employees on heat-related illnesses and associated prevention measures.
- Monitor workers for symptoms of heat-related illnesses.
- Develop emergency response plans to prepare for incidents involving heat-related illnesses.
Additionally, construction employers should take note that OSHA recently adopted a National Emphasis Program (NEP) aimed at protecting workers from heat-related hazards. Through this NEP, OSHA will prioritize heat-related hazards during workplace inspections within targeted high-risk industries (including construction) over the next three years to help proactively address safety concerns before workers suffer preventable heat-related illnesses or fatalities. Construction employers should review the NEP to better understand OSHA’s associated enforcement efforts and ways they can further protect employees amid hot temperatures.
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