It’s no surprise that with longer daylight hours, more time outside, and more construction projects, summertime means a spike in workplace accidents. In fact, over nine years of study, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries found that fatal workplace injuries peaked in July, and a quarter of all workers fatally injured had accidents occurring in June, July and August.
Some of this comes down to statistical probability, with more workers on the jobsites that often pose the greatest hazards. But there are also some truly seasonal risks to consider, especially if you’re working outside this summer.
Heatstroke is serious and deadly. It happens when your core body temperature rises to 104 degrees F, and it can quickly lead to brain, heart, or kidney damage. If you’re working in hot weather while exerting yourself, you’re especially at risk. OSHA recommends water breaks every 15 minutes, regardless of whether or not you’re thirsty. You should also wear light, cool clothing and a shaded hat, though it can sometimes be tricky to balance these requirements with construction-site appropriate clothing.
If you spot a coworker experiencing confusion, seizures, fainting, or profuse sweating, call 911 and tell your supervisor immediately. The person should be moved to a shaded area, cooled with water or ice, and have extra layers of clothing removed. The Mayo Clinic features a detailed list of signs and symptoms so you can watch out for your team on the job.
Heat exhaustion safety
While less severe than heatstroke, heat exhaustion is still dangerous. If you’re feeling dizzy, fatigued, or nauseous while working outdoors, stop what you’re doing, tell your supervisor, and cool off with water or a sports drink. Heat fatigue and heat rash are also signs that you’re working too hard in high temperatures—putting your body and health at risk.
If you’ve never worked in high temperatures or you haven’t done so in some time, you’re especially at risk for heat-related illnesses. Similarly, if you’re returning from a break in a cool location, let yourself build up a little tolerance to the hot weather before pushing yourself too hard.
It’s no surprise that dehydration goes hand-in-hand with other heat-related illnesses. It’s common to not feel thirsty until you’re already dehydrated, which is why the regular water breaks recommended above are so crucial to keeping you safe in hot working conditions. Humidity increases the risk, leaving you sweatier and less able to cool off your body. In addition to causing heat illnesses, dehydration can lead to longer-term problems like urinary tract or kidney issues.
How can employers help?
Employers can do their part in reducing heat-related summer injuries and illnesses by modifying work plans. Regular breaks in cool areas, rotation work, and plenty of cold water can help prevent on-the-job tragedies. OSHA recommends that newer workers and those who’ve been out of the heat for two weeks or more should start out at a 50 percent graduated system, increasing bit by bit each day to a full schedule. Additionally, work plans should take into consideration the heat index rather than just the temperature.