Summertime in the Southwest is often characterized by scorching temperatures and dry conditions, which often pose a considerable risk for employee safety, particularly those in the construction industry. During this season, the region experiences hot and arid weather, with temperatures often soaring above 100°F. This heat can create a challenging environment for outdoor work and, if not appropriately managed, pose many health and safety risks. As a result, protecting the safety and well-being of construction industry workers operating heavy equipment is paramount.
In this article, we will explore essential safety tips to mitigate heat-related risks, promote employee safety, and ensure a productive and healthy work environment amid the sweltering heat of summer in the Southwest.
1. Develop A Comprehensive Summer Safety Plan
First and foremost, you must implement a comprehensive heat illness prevention plan to not only protect workers from the scorching heat, but to also ensure that a proper hazard communication plan is installed in the workplace. The plan should contain the following:
- Proper training and capacity development: The most crucial step in any safety plan is promoting awareness and fostering capacities to assess, respond, and address underlying risks. Heat safety and first aid training must be facilitated to educate employees about the symptoms of heat-related illnesses (i.e., dizziness, fatigue, confusion) and how to recognize the signs and undertake timely response measures.
- Conduct regular safety meetings: A summer safety committee led by a designated safety officer should hold frequent meetings to update and discuss potential hazards, safety protocols, and emergency protocols. These meetings should also reinforce the importance of adhering to safety guidelines, including heat illness prevention measures.
- Knowledge is crucial: The designated safety committee should monitor local weather forecasts and heat advisories to stay informed about high-temperature warnings or heat-related alerts in the area. They can also post relevant tips in accessible and conspicuous areas on the construction site to inform and remind workers to take necessary precautions. Keep in mind that all hazard communication must comply with local regulations.
- Install reporting and feedback mechanisms: Create an open environment where workers feel comfortable reporting any heat-related symptoms or concerns promptly. Encourage immediate reporting to the designated safety officer and/or committee.
- Encourage a buddy system and peer monitoring: Relevant to fostering an open work culture, workers should be encouraged to look out for one another and keep track of each other’s well-being. A concrete way to ensure this is to implement a buddy system where workers can monitor and support each other during their shifts.
- Schedule intensive work during cooler hours: Organize the working schedule to mitigate heat-related risks as much as possible. Whenever possible, schedule heavy equipment operations during the cooler parts of the day, typically early mornings or evenings, to reduce exposure to extreme heat. For new employees or those returning after an extended absence, their schedules must be arranged to allow them time to acclimatize to the heat.
- Rest is essential: Establish a work/rest schedule that allows for frequent breaks in the designated shaded areas or air-conditioned rooms on the site. Encourage workers to rest in cool environments during their breaks. Set up shaded rest areas on the construction site where workers can take breaks and seek relief from the sun’s heat.
2. Provide Sun Protection
Protecting workers from the sun’s harmful rays is crucial in preventing sunburn and long-term skin damage. To ensure this, consider the following measures:
- Provide and encourage the use of sunscreen: Supply sunscreen with a high sun protection factor (SPF) and broad-spectrum UVA/UVB protection. Instruct workers to apply sunscreen generously and reapply every 2 hours, especially after sweating or water exposure.
- Use appropriate clothing: Workers should also wear loose-fitting, breathable, and sweat-wicking clothing made of light-colored materials to reflect heat and allow air circulation. Long-sleeved shirts, wide-brimmed hats, and sunglasses can provide additional protection from the sun.
3. Utilize Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
In line with sun protection, proper PPE usage and appropriate clothing choices are also highly essential in minimizing injuries and illnesses. To promote employee safety and comfort:
- Wear appropriate apparel and gear: You must ensure that all workers wear protective clothing, including high-visibility vests, safety helmets, and steel-toed boots. These items protect against potential hazards on the construction site and maintain worker safety.
- Use respiratory protection: When working in dusty or polluted environments, provide your workers with suitable respiratory protection, such as high-standard dust masks or respirators, to prevent the inhalation of harmful particles.
- Use cooling accessories: Provide your workers with cooling accessories like neck towels, cooling vests, or hats with built-in cooling systems. These can help regulate body temperature and reduce heat-related risks.
4. Encourage Proper Hydration And Nutrition
It is much more challenging to combat heat stress if you’re not caring for your body. Ensuring you’re well-nourished and hydrated is key to employee safety and well-being. To ensure this, we should heed the following:
- Water is life: Proper hydration is crucial in combating heat and preventing heat-related illnesses. Workers should drink plenty of water throughout the day, even if they don’t feel thirsty. Easy access to clean drinking water must always be provided on the site.
- Provide healthy snacks: Offer nutritious snacks like fruits, vegetables, and nuts to replenish electrolytes and maintain energy levels.
- Avoid heavy meals: Advise workers to consume light, easily digestible meals during breaks to prevent feelings of sluggishness and promote overall well-being.
Given the scorching summer heat in the Southwest, protecting construction industry workers using heavy equipment definitely requires extra care and diligent attention. Recognizing that the workplace is only as safe as its most vulnerable employee, prioritizing employee safety not only ascertains their well-being but also nurtures a sense of community in the workplace which can catalyze an established culture of safety and resilience that will set you apart from your competitors in the construction industry.
Your Construction Team is in Safe Hands with ASCO
With 27 locations throughout Texas, Oklahoma, and East New Mexico, ASCO Equipment is not only a leader in the heavy equipment industry, but we also know a thing or two about the workplace and employee safety. As a family-run business with 63 years of experience, ASCO treats its customers like family, too. We offer top-of-the-line heavy equipment like forklifts, boom lifts, skid steer loaders, excavators, concrete equipment, and many more.
Want to know more? Get in touch with ASCO today.