WorkSafeBC is reminding employers and workers that, while many people get to head to the beach during record-breaking heat waves like the one they’ve experienced recently, many construction crews continue working, and engaging in hard, physical work in the hot sun can be dangerous if proper precautions aren’t taken.
So far this summer, according to Environment Canada, 64 temperature records have already been broken in cities and towns throughout the province, including a sweltering 40.6° C, recorded last week in Warfield, a West Kootenay community, with Osoyoos, a town several hours east of Vancouver, clocking in at 40.4°C. The heat isn’t expected to abate anytime soon, so employers, supervisors and workers need to take precautions to keep everyone safe.
WorkSafeBC often checks up on at-risk jobs sites during the hot summer months, and they have several suggestions for coping with the hot weather, starting with trying to avoid the temptation to go shirtless or wear tank tops. It seems counterintuitive, but covering yourself means less heat, not more, and the more heat, the greater the tendency to become dehydrated. And speaking of dehydration, they also recommend making sure workers have plenty of water to drink; not sugary or sweet soft drinks or tea, but plain, fresh water.
They also recommend cycling workers out of hot areas and providing shaded areas for frequent breaks. When doing a daily hazard assessment at the beginning of every workday, which all construction sites should be doing, the heat should be considered one of the key hazards. Since provincial Occupational Health and Safety Regulations require employers to conduct heat stress assessments and to develop and implement heat stress prevention plans to control exposures anyway, this should be routine on hot days.
In addition, workers should also be trained to spot the early signs and symptoms of heat stress, which can include dizziness and confusion, fatigue, fainting, headache pain and cramping, as well as nausea, vomiting, dark urine, diarrhea, profuse sweating and rapid heartbeat. They should also know what to do when and if they spot it. To treat a worker with any of these symptoms, it’s necessary to get them into shade and have them drink plenty of water. If the symptoms persist for more than 15 minutes, call a doctor.
Heat stroke is far more serious; in addition to the above symptoms, it can also include dry red skin, a body temperature over 40°C, reduced blood pressure, loss of consciousness and possibly inability to sweat. Because heat stroke is potentially fatal, emergency medical personnel should be called.
It’s hot out there, and WorkSafeBC wants construction workers and employers to play it cool.