Construction Job Site Precautions for Warm Weather
In spring and summer, issues with working in the cold give way to issues with working in the heat. When the temperature rises, the major worries are for employee safety, although comfort is also a prime consideration if a company wants to keep workers happy.
New workers are most susceptible to heat-related medical problems. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, most heat-related jobsite deaths occur in the first three days of work, and half happen on the first day.
First and foremost, workers need time to get acclimated to hot weather, particularly any employees who haven’t worked outdoors recently. Employers should provide air-conditioned, or at least shaded, areas and allow for frequent water and rest breaks. Workers should drink at least a cup of water every 20 minutes and be trained to recognize the signs of heat illness — such as dizziness, nausea, confusion and an accelerated heartbeat — in themselves and others. They should know whom to notify in case of a heat emergency, such as a supervisor or even 911.
But worker safety isn’t the only warm-weather worry construction companies have. Materials and equipment can also be negatively affected by heat.
If the project is in a location where summers are dry, dust can get into the machinery, meaning more cleaning and additional filter changes for jobsite vehicles and heavy equipment. A stepped-up maintenance program could be in order to prevent costly damage to equipment or malfunctions that could put workers at risk.
Equipment can overheat in the summer, so checking it regularly for proper coolant levels is a must, as is ensuring hydraulics systems are maintained with adequate levels of oil. Companies should make clear to operators that they shouldn’t stress the equipment with heavier-than-normal loads or particularly demanding operations when it’s hot out.
Elasticity of seals can be damaged by heat and exposure to UV rays, so companies should take care to protect those expensive parts from exposure — for instance, by garaging or parking a vehicle under shade when not in use and scheduling operations for times when the temperature and sun exposure aren't at their highest.
Material performance can also suffer in hot weather, especially brick mortar. While mortar needs moderate temperatures to set properly, too much dry heat can suck the moisture out of it, causing it to settle too fast, before it can bond to the brick. This can result in a weaker masonry unit that leaks or experiences crumbling of mortar down the road. Solution: Mix smaller amounts and use them up fast. Keep the mortar covered.
Concrete curing can be hindered by extreme heat. The Portland Cement Associations recommends measures such as shading, using fogging to maintain moisture in the air around the pour and even moving the pour to a time when temperatures are cooler.
As the temperature rises starting in spring, construction season heats up, which is great for the bottom line. With a little planning, contractors can keep employees safe, equipment online and productivity humming.
Kim Slowey is a writer who has been active in the construction industry for 25 years and is licensed as a certified general contractor in Florida. She received her BA in Mass Communications/Journalism from the University of South Florida and has experience in both commercial and residential construction.