Heat exposure in the summertime can present many problems for workers, especially in the construction industry, where intense physical labor is often involved. Because of high exposure to UV radiation, construction workers in the US are actually 6 times more likely to develop skin cancer. Heat exposure can quickly lead to heat exhaustion, making certain forms of work unsafe until the high temperature has cooled down. High temperatures or high humidity, along with this strenuous physical labor could mean that heat levels cannot be released fast enough.
If heat exposure is an issue, but physical labor is still possible, some of the most successful methods of protection do not cost any money and can be simply incorporated. These include constant access to water and a cool, shaded area, along with longer rest periods that can be personally chosen. Personal training should also occur before work begins, letting workers know how to recognize the effects of high heat exposure, what to do if any are noticed and how to prevent them from happening.
For example, one of the most common, less serious effects of heat exposure is heat rash, noticed through bumps, itching and rashes on the skin, often relieved through certain creams and ointments. Skin cancer is a more severe effect of heat exposure and fast detection is always important. With construction workers in the US 6 times more likely to develop skin cancer, they should always be able to recognize moles and injuries which do not appear to be healing as some of the most common indications. The constant use of a high sun lotion is one of the easiest and most effective methods of prevention.
Workers are always entitled to be given this knowledge and appropriate protection from heat exposure. It is their personal right to refuse work if heat exposure appears to be affecting their health, especially if they have not been given the sufficient PPE, or a shaded area to rest while taking a break. It is also their right to approve a Health and Safety Representative, with the power to contact an OHS inspector, to perform a formal inspection of their site. They can also demand that work is halted if they think workers are be affected by problems such as high heat exposure.
Climate change is here. Future extreme heat waves are a given and will likely grow in intensity, geographic reach, and duration. Plans need to be made now to ensure survival of the poorest, to protect outdoor workers and to adapt economic planning to what is increasingly becoming a hotter planet (Frederick S. Pardee, Assistant Policy Researcher, RAND Graduate School).
Download the Ebook “Battling Heat Exposure” and learn about:
- The risk factors of working under high temperatures
- How to treat workers who have suffered from severe heat exposure
- Preventing the risks of heat exposure while working