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Recognizing and Addressing Heat Stress in Construction

Summers in Houston, Texas, are hot and oppressive with temperatures soaring above 95 degrees Fahrenheit at the peak of August accompanied by a high degree of humidity. Construction workers are already at risk of heat-related illnesses and injuries due to exposure to hot environments or extreme heat, and this risk is further heightened by a combination of physical activity, clothing, and a rough-and-tumble work environment.

In order to detect and manage health risks and ensure no undue strain is placed upon your workers’ physical abilities, employers should educate themselves on heat-related illnesses and injuries and how to prevent them. In this brief article, we’ll touch on a number of heat-related effects and what you can do to prevent and manage them. Since heat-related illnesses are considered safety hazards, don’t hesitate to reach out to a Houston contractor attorney regarding legal advice for staying in compliance with federal and local safety regulations. 

Related: Summer Safety Tips for Contractors

Common Types of Heat-Related Illnesses

The most common type of heat-related illness found on construction sites is heat exhaustion — the point in which the cardiovascular system can no longer support the work being performed by the individual. Once the worker’s heart rate has reached its peak, he or she will begin to feel symptoms such as weakness, fatigue, light-headedness, nausea, excessive sweat, and difficulty working. Although the worker can begin to feel better within 10 to 15 minutes if he or she stops work and is directed to a shady area to cool down, workers often push through these symptoms in order to complete their task or stay productive. 

The second most common heat-related illness is exertional heat stroke (EHS) — a serious medical emergency that can result in death if not treated properly. EHS can come on very suddenly without any previous signs or symptoms of heat exhaustion and is only diagnosed when the worker begins experiencing hallucinations, behavioral changes, or a core body temperature greater than 104 degrees Fahrenheit. He or she will feel unable to continue working or collapse on the job. While the worker may exhibit symptoms similar to heat exhaustion, such as vomiting and hot and sweaty skin, they will always experience additional behavioral changes unique to EHS as well. This is the cue for immediate medical attention. 

Related: Survive the Heat: Safety Tips for Construction Professionals

Preventing Heat Exhaustion, EHS, & More

The three steps to addressing and preventing heat-related illnesses are to recognize the symptoms, assess the risk, and limit exposure. The most important thing you can do for your workers in these sweltering summer months is to encourage them to pay attention to what their body is telling them. Educate them on the symptoms of heat stress. Tell them that you would rather have them take a break and stop working than push through for the sake of productivity and end up in need of serious medical attention. Worker safety should always be the priority. 

After that, assess the risk of the outdoor work environment and screen workers for heat intolerance before beginning a project. This may include calculating the heat index, identifying previous heat-related illnesses in your workers’ backgrounds, and understanding how underlying medical conditions could affect their ability to tolerate heat. Lastly, limit exposure by scheduling jobs for the cooler part of the day, provide shaded areas for rest and recovery, and modify work/rest schedules to allow for more rest time. Your workers will thank you. For more information on protecting your workers from heat stress while making sure your jobsite remains in compliance with local, state, and federal regulations, consult with one of our Houston contractor attorneys

If you would like to speak with a Houston construction litigation attorney, please contact us today.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.