Battling Summer-Related Weather Issues - Pro Masonry Guide

Battling Summer-Related Weather Issues

From extreme heat and sun exposure to lightning, the summer months can bring challenges to outdoor workers. Properly preventing the effects of these issues can help keep you safe as you work outside.

By Maureen Upchurch

Summer is the prime time for completing long-term construction projects or catching up on projects that were delayed in the unpredictable winter and rainy spring months. While summer weather can be more agreeable, it is important that you not feel a sense of false security. Weather-related injuries can be just as serious in the summer as in other months.

Sun-related illnesses

The sun can catch you off guard. It can provide a warm glow in cooler weather, but as those temperatures increase to the mid- to upper-80s – closer to your body temperature – precautions should be taken by anyone working outdoors. According to OSHA records, more than 2,600 workers suffered from heat-related illnesses in 2014. During that same time period, 18 died from heat stroke and related causes on the job.
Heat stroke, also called sun stroke, is “one of the most serious short-term effects of the sun,” says Dr. Marc I. Leavey with Mercy Personal Physicians at Lutherville, Md. Heat stroke can occur at a body temperature of 104 degrees or higher.

Watch for dizziness, nausea and vomiting or sweaty skin, as these also are symptoms of heat exhaustion.

Watch for dizziness, nausea and vomiting or sweaty skin, as these also are symptoms of heat exhaustion.

“Heat stroke can progress to fatal rather quickly,” Leavey says. Knowing the signs and symptoms used to identify it in yourself and others is paramount.

Symptoms of heat stroke include red, hot and dry skin; high temperature; confusion and convulsions. When workers have exposure to the sun, they should note if they begin to feel weak, woozy or close to passing out.
“This is due to a compromised circulatory system and vascular collapse,” Leavey says. “And, it can happen in less than an hour.”
Getting professional help by calling 911 quickly is important to avoid permanent damage to the brain and organs, which could ultimately lead to death. While waiting for emergency assistance to arrive, Leavey suggests moving the overheated individual to a room with air conditioning or placing him in the shade. Providing fluids and spraying him with water or placing cool towels on his body are two other immediate ways to try to reduce the body temperature.

Heat exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is another sun-related illness that is caused by prolonged exposure to the sun, especially when combined with humidity and strenuous activity. Employees should take note if they are experiencing dizziness, nausea and vomiting or sweaty skin, as these also are symptoms of heat exhaustion. Other signs can include weakness, cramping, headache and elevated heart rate. Without proper treatment, heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke. Similar to heat stroke, heat exhaustion can be treated by cooling the body’s temperature through the application of cool, wet towels, spraying with water and drinking plenty of fluids. Loosening the clothing and resting in the shade or air conditioning are also helpful.
OSHA cites various ways that heat stroke and heat exhaustion can be prevented, including taking rest breaks, drinking water at 15-minute intervals and spending time in the shade or an air-conditioned room. Additionally, wearing a hat and loose-fitting, light-colored clothing; keeping an eye on fellow workers; and slowing introducing new workers onto a job during high-intensity sun months are easy ways to keep heat stroke at bay.

Sunburn

While heat stroke and heat exhaustion are the two most serious short-term sun-related illnesses, Leavey treats sunburn most often. Sunburn is easily identifiable and is caused by prolonged exposure to the sun, turning the skin pink to red. In the short term, it can lead to second- and third-degree burns, dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Long-term effects include skin damage leading to cancers, such as basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma.

There are simple, cost-effective and extremely important ways to prevent sunburn. Applying sunscreen to exposed skin at regular intervals will help with prevention. Additionally, wearing hats and clothes that cover the skin will go a long way to avoiding sunburn. Sunglasses are necessary as well, since long-term exposure of the eyes to UV rays can lead to cataracts, says Leavey. Thorough and thoughtful use of these measures are vital as many construction workers work on roofs or scaffolding which reflect the sun. The reflection allows UV rays to affect an employee from multiple angles.
Heat stroke, heat exhaustion and sunburn are more common sun-related illnesses, but others include overheating, heat rash, heat cramps and fainting.

OSHA encourages every jobsite to have a heat illness prevention plan in place as it is the employer’s responsibility to protect employees from heat-related illness. This prevention plan should include the availability of water, time to rest, and shade. OSHA encourages employers to slowly integrate new employees onto the jobsite during the summer months and give them more frequent breaks. Lastly, employers are encouraged to develop a response plan to treat individuals afflicted with these heat-related illnesses.

Sun-Related Precautions in Winter

While sun-related illnesses are often associated with summer jobs, they can also happen in the winter. In winter, outdoor employees often layer to protect themselves from the cold. However, as the sun beats down, they may begin to sweat. This sweat is unable to evaporate due to the many layers and the employee can overheat.

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Sunburn is also possible in winter. The reflection of the sun off the snow is just as harmful as a reflection off a roof or scaffolding. While the temperatures may be low, it is important to use sunscreen and wear sunglasses in winter.

Lightning strikes

Summer months are notorious for thunderstorms, some rolling in from a distance, and others popping up unexpectedly. As a result, awareness of the possibility of lightning strikes is key.
Cloud-to-ground lightning occurs 20 to 25 million times annually, striking about 300 people each year. From 1990 through 2003, 756 lightning-related deaths occurred in the United States, with the highest rates of death in the South and Midwest. More suffer from permanent disability, however.

According to OSHA, construction workers, heavy equipment operators, plumbing and pipe fitters, lawn service and landscaping workers, and building maintenance workers are at high risk for lighting strikes.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) advises there is no safe option outdoors to avoid lightning strikes. Lightning is unpredictable and can strike 10 miles outside rainfall. As a result, prevention is the best way to avoid injury, and the best method of prevention is to go indoors as soon as thunder is heard – even a distant rumble.

“There is no 100 percent effective measure to lightning-proof a jobsite, short of removing employees from outdoor work activities,” says Dean McKenzie, director of OSHA’s Directorate of Construction.
Many victims are caught outside because they have ignored warning signs and neglected to find shelter. Some have returned outside too soon after thunder and lightning have passed. Scott Ketchum, deputy director for OSHA’s Directorate of Construction, recommends “including these hazards in a written Emergency Action Plan (EAP). It is vital to then provide training for your employees on lightning safety and the EAP on the jobsite.” Everyone should understand the risks.

Thirty minutes is a safe period to wait in the sheltered area after the last clap of thunder is heard. McKenzie also urges employees to be aware of the wind, which usually precedes a thunderstorm. “This can create additional hazards for construction workers who may be working at heights or with equipment affected by strong winds,” he says.
Prevention of these natural summer work hazards can be simple. From providing water and rest periods on the job, to ensuring that lightning procedures are relayed to employees, running a safe jobsite is achievable. Monitoring the implementation of these practices will ensure compliance by those who may not have a clear idea of the procedures or may think the guidelines do not apply to them. It will ensure jobsite safety – a vital part of this industry – for all employees.

Sun-Related Precautions in Winter

While sun-related illnesses are often associated with summer jobs, they can also happen in the winter. In winter, outdoor employees often layer to protect themselves from the cold. However, as the sun beats down, they may begin to sweat. This sweat is unable to evaporate due to the many layers and the employee can overheat.
Sunburn is also possible in winter. The reflection of the sun off the snow is just as harmful as a reflection off a roof or scaffolding. While the temperatures may be low, it is important to use sunscreen and wear sunglasses in winter.

OSHA encourages every jobsite to have a heat illness prevention plan in place as it is the employer’s responsibility to protect employees from heat-related illness. This prevention plan should include the availability of water, time to rest, and shade.


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