Along the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast, winter has jumped right into summer. As usual, spring seemed to be a mere blink of an eye. And with the summer months comes brutal heat—heat made even more oppressive by this region’s infamous humidity. On the construction job-site, high temperatures and dense air quality create a potentially dangerous environment no matter where in the country you work.

Regardless of age, gender, or health condition, everyone is at risk for heat-related illness when working on a job-site under the summer sun. So as July marches onward and the temperature rises, Builders Mutual reminds you to stay aware—and stay safe. 

Beating the heat—and the humidity

High temperatures do dictate risk levels. But it’s the heat index, a reading that combines both temperature and humidity, that is a much more useful tool than the thermometer alone for assessing the level of danger. The higher the heat index, the hotter the weather feels. That sensation of heaviness results from the inability of sweat to quickly evaporate and cool the skin. Employers and job-site supervisors must take the heat index into account as the season brings heat stress to the forefront once again.

To prevent the effects of heat-related illnesses, from mild overheating and heat exhaustion to heat stroke, use the acronym CHILL to remember these five key action steps: 

Cool off. Supervisors need to provide cool-off breaks in the shade. With heavy PPE, use cooling towels or icepack vests.

Hydrate. Allow your job-site crew to drink water often—ideally, one cup every 15 minutes or one pint per hour. For more on hydration, check out our Fact or Fiction blog.

Initiate a summer schedule. Consider a working shift that starts by 6 a.m. and ends before the high heat of late afternoon.

Lighten up. Wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing to stay cool. Also, keep meals light, especially at midday, so the body can stay efficient at cooling.

Look out for each other. All employees should have basic first-aid knowledge and risk awareness training to stay on high alert for heat-related issues. 

Seeing the signs

To have each other’s backs in the summer sun, it’s imperative that everyone knows the signs of heat-related illnesses. Heat stress can result in either heat exhaustion or its much more dangerous counterpart, heatstroke. Keep your eyes open to the symptoms and be ready to act quickly.

Symptoms of heat exhaustion:

  • Thirst
  • Nausea
  • Clammy skin
  • Darkening of or decrease in urine
  • Headaches, dizziness
  • Irritability, confusion

Workers experiencing these symptoms should be allowed to rest in a cool place while consuming plenty of water. Left untreated, this condition could quickly progress to heatstroke. When the body loses its ability to regulate its temperature, heatstroke can be fatal.

Symptoms of heatstroke:

  • Hot, sweat-free skin
  • Muscle cramping
  • Bewilderment or irrationality
  • Loss of consciousness or seizures

If these symptoms are present, medical help should be sought immediately, and the individual should be moved to a cool area. Fanning the victim and soaking their clothing with cool water can slow the effect until help arrives. If untreated, heat stroke can be fatal.

Stay safe this summer, and check out this blog post for more details on heat-related illnesses and effective prevention.  Access other OSHA heat-related resources here.

Content updated 6-2001.