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Summer Safety Tips to Keep Construction Workers Cool in the Arizona Heat

July 1, 2022

Working long, physical hours in 100-plus-degree temperatures and full-coverage clothing is more than just uncomfortable for Arizona’s construction workers — it’s dangerous, and potentially life-threatening.

The Arizona Department of Health Services reported heat has killed more than 1,500 residents in the past five years. Phoenix is the single hottest metro area in the nation, and Arizona consistently ranks among the top 10 hottest states.

With 22% of our population working outdoors year-round, health risks (and insurance rates) will likely continue to rise alongside the average annual temperatures. For construction teams, proactivity and preparedness during the scalding summer months are key for effective risk management.

Here are some simple ways to help construction workers beat the heat.

Know the Signs of Heat Stroke & Exhaustion

Heat is the No. 1 cause of weather-related deaths, both in Arizona and nationwide. Learning how to recognize, prevent and treat heat stroke and exhaustion will help mitigate liability risks and keep construction workers healthy and safe.

Heat Stroke

Heat strokes occur when the body overheats and cannot cool down on its own, usually as a result of prolonged exposure to or physical exertion in hot weather. Body temperatures can rise to 106 degrees or higher within 10 to 15 minutes, making this the most severe heat-related illness.

Symptoms:

• Body temperature exceeds 104 degrees

• Confusion, dizziness, slurred speech, delirium

• Nausea or vomiting

• Rapid breathing and/or heart rate

What to do:

• Seek immediate emergency care

• Move the worker to the shade or indoors

• Remove excess clothing

• Cool the worker down with any ice or cold water available

Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is the body’s response to an excessive loss of water and salt, usually through profusive sweating. While it’s less severe than a heat stroke, it can still significantly damage the liver and kidneys if left untreated.

Symptoms:

• Elevated body temperature

• Heavy sweating

• Decreased urine output

• Headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness

What to Do:

• Take the worker to a clinic or emergency room for evaluation and treatment

• Call 911 if urgent care is unavailable

• Move the worker to the shade or indoors

• Remove excess clothing

• Cool the worker down with any ice or cold water available

• Encourage frequent sips of cool water

Heat Safety Best Practices

Now that you’ve learned the signs and symptoms of heat-related illness, it’s time to create a game plan. These tips will help construction teams stay hydrated and healthy all summer long.

Hydration Is Key

The CDC suggests the average person drink about nine 8-ounce glasses of water each day. For those working in the heat, however, this recommendation skyrockets to 8 ounces every 15 to 20 minutes. Always keep jugs of water on hand for easy access and encourage your team to hydrate often. Electrolyte-based drinks like Gatorade can also help quickly replenish the body with nutrients it needs to perform well on the job. (Another note: Alcohol does the exact opposite, and heat amplifies its effects.)

Any Break Is a Good Break

Giving every worker an hour-long, air-conditioned lunch may not be practical, but there are still ways to provide proper breaks mid-shift. Arizona, unfortunately, has no labor laws that require employers to provide breaks to employees, so this is where compassion comes into play. Consider implementing a 15-minute break every few hours, or simply tell a tired worker to take five in the shade. Your team will feel more respected, valued and satisfied.

Don’t Forget the Sunscreen

Not only does sunscreen protect the skin from the sun’s harmful rays, but it also could play a role in regulating body temperature. When SPF 30 or higher is applied a half-hour before sun exposure, it helps the body retain much-needed moisture and stay cool on its own. In the long-term, workers who apply sunblock consistently will have lower risks for cancer, premature aging, broken blood vessels and more.

Acclimate to the Weather and Workload

Employees who are new to the area or industry may not be used to spending long hours in extreme conditions. Be sure to ease these workers into their role. Start with a less demanding workload or schedule than normally assigned, then add on hours or tasks once you know they can handle the heat.

Heat Illness Training for the Whole Team

Like any other risk management issue, heat illness requires its own, ongoing education and training. Clearly and thoroughly explain the risks, symptoms and warning signs of working outside during the Arizona summer, and make sure each employee knows the game plan should an emergency arise.

This training should extend beyond onboarding. Strategic construction firms will host annual meetings before the heat hits, keep informational posters and brochures handy and designate an on-site worker to monitor heat illness hazards, as well.

Talk to Your Insurance Broker

Your first goal in business should be to maintain a healthy, happy and productive workforce. Your second should be minimizing risks and cutting costs. A trusted broker will help you get a better grasp on your jobsite liabilities to find the best policy for your construction firm’s unique needs — including any additional strategies or processes to protect workers during the summer.

If you need additional guidance helping your workers stay cool in the summer heat, the experts at Lovitt & Touché can help you identify strategic risk management solutions. Learn more about our full range of construction coverage solutions.