Keeping a crew safe on a jobsite presents unique challenges when the mercury creeps above 90 degrees. Heat stress is increasingly being recognized for contributing to the rapid onset of fatigue, distraction, inattention to details and other deficiencies.
Rule No. 1 is to maintain proper hydration. This sounds logical, but there are practical challenges.
Here are some bedrock tips to share at your summer safety meeting.
- Hydrate: Water is arguably the best hydrating beverage, but it’s tasteless and boring. Enter the electrolytic beverages: Gatorade, Squincher, etc. Even a slice of lemon will add some taste to a cooler. These additives make plain old water more drinkable, and they also supply electrolytes to the body – sort of like what a low dose of battery acid does to a wet cell battery. The body loves it. In the old days, salt tablets were distributed, although this practice has been proven outdated. We typically eat enough junk food to replace salt lost through perspiration.
- Avoid designer beverages (Red Bull etc.): Because they offer minimal hydration. And avoid carbonated sodas and sugary concoctions. Iced tea is on the borderline, and anything with caffeine is a diuretic and should be avoided. Lemonade, and most citrus beverages are fine, but it’s a good idea to cut them with 50% water. Try also to cut down on cigarettes. In high heat they make it harder to respirate oxygen to where it needs to go.
- Select your lunch carefully: Junk food is high in fat and preservative, and it’s going to put a high caloric load on your digestive system. In high heat, that will stress the body. Try eating a bigger breakfast, so you’re not ravenous at lunch, and light lunches, such as fruit and vegetable salads (skip the fries).
- Schedule for cooler work: In extreme heat (ninety degrees and above), consider rescheduling to work in cooler parts of the day. Can this job be done at night, or can you modify a shift for earlier morning starts? Supervisors should watch more closely for indicators of fatigue and call for breaks more frequently. Going in and out of air conditioned spaces can be tricky. Change out of soaked shirts when in the AC.
- Keep an eye on one another: And be alert for signs of heat exhaustion. They need to know that strange behavior may be a sign of heat-related illness and to take some early steps to intervene. Early symptoms include lethargy, disorientation, stumbling, dropping tools, slurred speech or unresponsiveness. You can’t have this happen around moving machinery, so it’s serious stuff to manage.