On-Site Magazine

Are your crews ready for the summer?

By Alexandra Skinner   

Construction Health & Safety

Construction employers should prepare for heat and smokey conditions.

(Photo courtesy of WorkSafeBC)

Canada’s summers have been challenging in recent years. Widespread extreme heat has affected a number of regions, and a notably dry winter in some parts of the country has increased the likelihood of wildfires this summer, meaning construction workers could face the dual risks of extreme heat and smoke exposure.

Before these conditions arise, employers must conduct risk assessments and have plans in place to protect their workers from risks associated with heat and poor air quality. With summer about to officially start, it is time to ask, “Are you ready for the summer?”

“Planning is essential. Involve your team in the process, as they know the work best and can help you determine what is feasible,” says Suzana Prpic, senior manager of prevention field services at WorkSafe BC.  “Proactive planning, as well as ensuring workers understand how and when plans should be implemented keeps everyone safe and minimizes disruptions to work.”

The Risks

Extreme heat and poor air quality can both pose significant health risks to outdoor workers.

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Heat and UV Radiation

Construction workers are at a higher risk of heat stress and UV exposure due to their daily exposure to the sun. Both risks display different symptoms. For some, short-term exposure may have no noticeable effect, while others may develop more serious symptoms.

Heat stress can cause light-headedness and dizziness, which could lead to falling. It can also lead to heat stroke, which can be fatal.

UV exposure can cause skin and eye irritation, and long-term exposure can lead to severe burns, blindness, and even cancer. In fact, outdoor workers are up to 3.5 times more likely to develop skin cancer than indoor workers.

Smoke exposure

There are several potential health effects associated with wildfire smoke. Like heat, not everyone exposed to smoke will be affected in the same way. Negative health impacts depend on the level and duration of exposure, age of the worker, and other individual factors.

Workers with lung diseases such as asthma or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), as well as workers with other chronic diseases and older adults, are more likely to experience serious symptoms. These symptoms can include shortness of breath, persistent coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, and increased mucous production.

Preparing for extreme summer weather

Employers should follow these steps in advance of extreme weather:

  1. Conduct a risk assessment: Ask your workers and safety committees to help you assess the risks. Consider such factors as geographic location, seasonal weather patterns, and the nature of the work being performed. During periods of extreme weather, risk assessments should be reviewed several times a day.
  2. Develop tailored risk reduction approaches: Based on the risk assessment, develop strategies that address both heat-related illnesses and smoke exposure hazards. Consider the type of work, location, and personal factors of individual workers.
  3. Implement controls: Involve your workers in identifying ways to reduce the risks. Note that PPE is the least effective control and should be the last line of defense.

    Heat stress and UV exposure controls
        • Schedule physically demanding tasks during cooler parts of the day.
        • Monitor heat conditions and ensure workers are not working alone.
        • Establish work-rest cycles.
        • Rotate work activities, or increase the number of workers, so workers can cool down.
        • Wear sunscreen, long-sleeve clothing, and sunglasses to protect from UV rays.
        • Create areas that provide shade and water.

        Smoke exposure controls

        • Reduce physical activity for outdoor workers, as it can increase air intake.
        • Follow air quality advisories. Consider the wind direction when scheduling work.
        • Relocate work to less smoky areas if possible or reschedule until air quality improves.
        • Consider additional measures for workers who may be more susceptible to health impacts.

    Employers should also consider shutting down worksites if temperatures or air quality make it impossible to keep workers safe.

    1. Monitor conditions: Evaluate temperatures and air quality as conditions change. Check in regularly with your workers and empower them to bring up concerns. Employers should also collaborate with workers to adjust workloads or schedules.

“We want to help employers build resilience and to navigate extreme weather challenges confidently — knowing both lives and livelihoods are protected,” says Prpic.

Looking for Health and Safety Resources?

WorkSafeBC has online resources to help employers keep their workers safe from heat, smoke, and other emergencies.

 

Alexandra Skinner is the manager of government and media relations at WorkSafeBC.

 

www.worksafebc.com

 

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