Summers in New York are brutal for construction workers. Heat and humidity make a potentially deadly combination for workers. If they can work summer construction safely in other cities, we can do it here, too. Whether you're working 40 stories up, or out in the open on a freeway, it takes preparation to stay safe.
Hydration is key while working in a hot environment. Not only are frequent water breaks important, but drinking a lot of water the night before can mean all the difference. Protection against UV exposure is also recommended by wearing loose-fitting long-sleeve clothing, UV-absorbing sunglasses, and applying sunscreen regularly. Learn more about OSHA's heat illness prevention tips.
There are four major kinds of heat-related illnesses construction workers are likely to encounter:
Often called prickly heat, this is a rash that forms on the chest, neck and in skin folds like the inner elbows. It appears as red bumps and can be itchy. It forms when sweat can't evaporate away, so keeping the affected area dry is the best approach if you can't work in a cooler environment.
Pain and muscle spasms in the arms, abdomen or legs are caused by the loss of water and salts (electrolytes) in the muscles. It often occurs in muscles heavily used while working, and can appear even after the work day is finished. Drinking cold water and resting in the shade will help recovery, and the person should avoid strenuous work for several hours.
While working in hot environments, the body can sweat heavily and become dehydrated. Heavy sweating without replacing that water will eventually result in symptoms like nausea, weakness, fast heartbeat, dizziness and irritability. Resting in shade and drinking cold water are important, and the victim should not return to work that day. Ice packs and cold compresses can help with recovery, too. If there's no improvement after an hour, an emergency room visit is recommended.
When the body can no longer regulate its temperature, it's a potentially life-threatening medical emergency. Heavy sweating could stop completely, and the person may be confused, faint or experience seizures. Do everything possible to cool the victim and call 911 immediately.
Injured while working construction?
Construction injuries entitle you to workers' compensation. Depending on the circumstances, you may also have a case against a negligent third party. Discussing your case with a lawyer will make your rights clear.