By Rieva Lesonsky, CEO GrowBiz Media & SmallBizDaily.com
As I write this, Southern California (where I live) is going through a massive heat wave — today local temperatures topped 103°. As a journalist, I’m lucky — I get to hunker down inside with air-conditioning and lots of iced tea. But if you own a construction business, your employees, supervisors, and contractors have to brave the heat to get work done.
How can you keep them safe?
Summer heat is not a joke — construction workers account for about one-third of all heat-related worker deaths annually. Excessive heat can cause heat stroke or heat exhaustion, and just being overheated makes workers more susceptible to accidents or injuries.
Here are 8 steps you can take to protect your workers on hot days.
1. Understand the heat index.
Humidity intensifies the effects of heat. The heat index takes into account both temperature and humidity to provide a more accurate measure of how hot it feels than the temperature alone. Working in direct sunlight or while wearing heavy clothing can exacerbate heat even beyond what the heat index shows. Pay attention to weather forecasts, including the heat index, to plan your workers’ schedules.
2. Schedule heavy work during the coolest times of day.
Your workers may need to start earlier in the morning, take several hours off in the afternoon during the hottest part of the day, and return to the job site in the cool of the evening instead of working straight through. Use time-tracking software that makes it easy to see when employees are working or taking a lengthy break, and where they are physically so you can recall them to the job site when needed.
3. Rotate jobs.
You can help prevent heat exhaustion by having employees share the more physically strenuous jobs and alternating these tasks with lighter work. You may also need to schedule more workers on hot days to handle the same volume of work, because each individual employee will be less productive at this time.
4. Dress appropriately.
The right clothing can help workers be more effective in the heat. They should wear light-colored, lightweight clothing that allows for airflow. Clothing with SPF built in can help, too. Hats should provide enough shade to protect the face and neck without blocking vision; a cooling neck bandanna is another smart move.
5. Watch for symptoms of heat-related illness.
Make sure all workers know what to watch for in themselves and others, and have them keep an eye on each other — sometimes, it’s easier to see when someone else is showing signs of heat-related illness than to recognize it in yourself.
6. Have an emergency plan.
Employees and supervisors should know the warning signs of heat-related illness and how to respond to each situation, including heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Have plenty of water and ice packs available on the job site to help cool employees in case of an emergency. Make sure that workers immediately report any incidents to supervisors so they can take proper steps, including recording the incident.
7. Allow frequent breaks for rest and hydration.
Employees should take water breaks every 15 minutes during high-heat days. Drinking small amounts of water frequently is better than drinking a lot of water at lengthy intervals. If shade is not available at the jobsite, provide shade with a canopy or umbrella. You can also set up fans to provide a cooling breeze.
8. Allow acclimation time.
Construction workers who are new on the job are the most likely to be stricken by heat-related illnesses because they haven’t yet gotten used to working in the heat. Similarly, the first hot days of the year will often have the strongest effect on workers. Schedule work so as to allow employees to build up their heat tolerance gradually.
You can find more resources for preventing heat-related illness at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health website and at the Department of Labor website.
Rieva Lesonsky is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media and custom content company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship. Email Rieva at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Google+ and Twitter.com/Rieva, and visit her website, SmallBizDaily.com, to get the scoop on business trends and sign up for Rieva’s free TrendCast reports.