Soaring temperatures make construction sites dangerous

The sun and warm weather the approaching summer months will bring to most jobsites mean you must take special precautions to prevent heat-related injury, illness and death.

One of the hottest, and most dangerous, areas of the country for construction work during the summer is Texas. Concrete and asphalt worksites in this state regularly exceed 100 degrees from late May until early September.

“It does get very hot in Texas,” said Paul Causey, north Texas area manager for that states’s chapter of the Associated General Contractors of America. “It’s one of those things we have to deal with.”

Causey said because many contractors are familiar with weather conditions in Texas, heat-related incidents are not common.

Mitch Beckman, director of human and organization performance for AUI Contractors in Fort Worth, Texas, said no sign of heat fatigue is taken lightly on the jobsite.

Project managers are trained to spot signs of exhaustion brought on by a combination of heat, humidity and physical labor. “They maintain water religiously [for workers],” he said.

Most Texas general contractors are familiar with safety precautions for working in high temperature environments, Beckman said. Subcontractors often need supervision in certain situations, such as when working on roofs or enclosed spaces. “We don’t let people work alone,” he said.

The two most serious forms of heat-related illness are heat exhaustion – primarily from dehydration – and heat stroke, which could be fatal. Signs of either illness require immediate attention.

“It’s like walking in the woods and watching for snakes,” Beckman said. “In Texas it has to be [on everyone’s mind].”

OSHA tips for summer construction work:

  • Drink plenty of water before you get thirsty.
  • Wear light, loose-fitting, breathable clothing – cotton is good.
  • Take frequent short breaks in cool shade.
  • Eat smaller meals before work activity.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol or large amounts of sugar.
  • Find out from your health-care provider if your medications and heat don’t mix.
  • Know that equipment such as respirators or work suits can increase heat stress.

Patrick Beeson can be contacted at [email protected].