How Do Construction Workers Stay Cool? 6 Sun Safety Tips to Beat the Heat

Most days, you’d rather work hard in the great outdoors than sit behind a desk. But when a heatwave rolls through, you start to question that seriously. The thought of kicking back in the AC is powerful–but let’s face it, that’s just not you. You’re out there busting it to get the job done. 

But even though you refuse to back down from the weather, that doesn’t mean you’re not going to take care of yourself. Knowing how to stay cool while working outside in the summer is as important as proper training and tools. Construction workers need to know how to stay cool in the harshest, sunniest conditions. In this post, we’ll break down how they do it – with tips for: 

  • The best gear for the heat
  • Why to schedule around the weather
  • Basic safety protocols for summer construction
  • Signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses

How Do Construction Workers Stay Cool?

For most people, staying cool is simply about comfort. But for construction workers, it’s a matter of survival. According to one investigative report, at least 384 laborers (in occupations like farm work, construction, garbage collection, and tree-trimming) have perished from environmental heat exposure in the U.S. over the last ten years.

In 2019 alone, there were 43 deaths. That’s a sobering thought–and it doesn’t take into consideration all the people who succumbed to heat-related illnesses but didn’t die. Those folks may have lost wages, incurred medical expenses, or just plain suffered because of the episode.

Often, sun exposure and heat-related illnesses victims don’t realize that simple things can prevent this. These strategies become a way of life for people working construction in the heat. So what exactly does hot weather construction safety entail? And what are experienced pros doing to keep cool working outside? 

We’ve broken the topic down into six general construction heat safety tips: 

  • Schedule around the heat
  • Use sun protection
  • Stay hydrated
  • Eat right
  • Take adequate breaks
  • Know the signs of heat-related illnesses 

Now let’s take a closer look at how construction workers stay cool.

They Schedule Around the Heat 

No one can plan the weather, but they can plan around it by following these simple guidelines.

Check UV and Heat Indexes

Summer construction is always intense, but some days are more brutal than others. So keeping a close eye on the forecast, especially the UV rating and heat index, is critical. 

The UV Index Scale runs from 0-11+ and measures the strength of harmful ultraviolet radiation. Any rating over 5 means sun protection is a must. The heat index combines the temperature with relative humidity to produce a number that more closely reflects how hot it actually feels. Understanding these factors and how they affect your crew’s safety is critical. So much so that OSHA has even developed a Heat Safety Tool mobile app to help plan ahead for outdoor work. 

Get an Early Start

To beat the heat at work, summer construction crews must get the earliest start possible. Often the most unforgiving part of the day is 3 p.m. when temperatures peak. But let’s face it, conditions might become miserable far sooner. 

So, in addition to arriving at the job site early, it’s best to schedule the heaviest labor in the morning and save lighter tasks for later. What time construction workers stop working varies, but we’ve all seen road crews, for example, hard at it throughout the night. 

Coordinate Shaded Breaks 

Pushing hard for hours in the heat is not a good idea. Just 5-10 minutes of rest in cooler conditions can be the difference between recovery and dangerous overheating. An air-conditioned room or truck cab is a great option. But when that’s not available, find a seat in the shade. Bonus points if there’s a fan.

Adjust Workloads by Season

Take a long view and strategize throughout the year. That might mean scheduling the hottest, most strenuous tasks–roofing, for example–during winter. Although this may not always be possible, give careful thought about how best to harmonize with the seasons. 

The Suit Up (and Slather Up) to Combat Harmful UV Rays 

When you’re young and having fun in the sun, it’s easy to shrug off health concerns. But when you’re out in the elements every day, those days will add up to years, years will accumulate to decades, and the risks become more and more threatening. Excessive sun exposure can lead to seriously scary conditions, including life-threatening melanoma skin cancer. 

Here’s what you can do to combat them. 

UPF Shirts: Hot Weather Clothing for Construction Workers

The stereotype of the construction guy with no shirt on is for TV only. In real life, workers need protection! The best way to do this is with UPF clothing specially designed to block the sun’s harmful rays.  

Sunscreen for Construction Workers

You wouldn’t show up at the job site without your steel-toed boots, safety goggles, and hardhat. But what about sun protection PPE? High SPF sunscreen is a must for construction workers, especially for sensitive areas like the neck, nose, and ears. Reapply frequently, as you will surely be sweating it off throughout the day. 

More Things Construction Workers Use To Keep Cool

There are all kinds of cooling gear for construction workers, from neck shades and evaporative liners for hardhats to cooling vests and wraps like wearing a bunch of ice packs. We’ve come a long way since the days of freezing wet rags and plastering them to our heads, after all. 

Popular things construction workers use:

  • Heat reducing helmets
  • Cooling vests
  • Cooling sleeves
  • Cooling wraps, towels, and bandanas
  • Personal fans
  • Industrial fans
  • Portable misting systems
  • UV blocking sunglasses

They Make Hydration a Top Priority

By the time you feel thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. That’s why staying on top of hydration throughout the day is critical. If you wait till you’re getting weak and dizzy, it’s too late! 

Hydrating with Water

Plenty of plain, cool water is necessary to keep you going as you work (and sweat) through a sweltering day. Make sure you have a filled bottle or cooler within reach at all times. Sports drinks and coconut water are also helpful to replenish lost electrolytes. Avoid sugary beverages, caffeinated sodas, and energy drinks which only dehydrate you further. 

Avoiding Caffeine and Alcohol 

Skip the second cup of coffee in summer, as caffeine is a diuretic (meaning it makes you urinate, thereby dehydrating you.) Caffeinated energy drinks are just as bad as coffee. Another diuretic is alcohol, so it’s best to skip happy hour the night before work. 

Eating Right for Summer Construction 

Does it seem like you don’t get as hungry in hot weather? That’s because rich, heavy foods take extra work to break down, creating more metabolic heat in the process. Often our bodies will suppress appetite to put more energy toward cooling us. 

So forget the bacon cheeseburger and milkshake, and opt for smaller, lighter meals with plenty of fruits and vegetables. Not only will they weigh you down less, but healthy foods replace minerals lost through sweat. 

They Know the Signs of Heat-Related Illnesses 

Heat-related illnesses are no joke–remember the statistics about worker deaths? Consider hosting periodic talks about heat-related illnesses so that people understand the risks and symptoms. 

Some conditions to beware of include: 

  • Heat rash (a.k.a. prickly heat)
  • Muscle cramps
  • Heat exhaustion 
  • Heatstroke
  • Sun poisoning 

Heat Exhaustion Symptoms

Heat exhaustion happens when the body has lost too much water and salt, primarily through excessive sweating, making it an obvious concern for construction workers. Although it’s not as life-threatening as heat stroke, you must still take heat exhaustion seriously. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include:  

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Irritability 
  • Thirst
  • Heavy sweating
  • Decreased urination
  • High body temperature

Heat Stroke Symptoms

Heatstroke occurs when the body can no longer thermoregulate, causing a rapidly soaring temperature. It can be fatal without emergency treatment, so teams should be prepared to respond immediately. Signs of heatstroke include: 

  • Severe headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Muscle cramps
  • Seizures
  • Red, hot, dry skin
  • Lack of sweating
  • Rapid heartbeat 
  • Shallow breathing
  • Confusion
  • Loss of consciousness 

Sun Poisoning Symptoms

Sun poisoning is a severe sunburn. One or more of these in a lifetime can significantly increase the risk of skin cancer. Symptoms of sun poisoning are:

  • Skin redness and blistering
  • Swelling
  • Pain and tingling
  • Headache
  • Fever and chills
  • Nausea 

Heat Rash Symptoms

Heat rash, one of the least-severe heat-related conditions, is a mild skin irritation caused by excessive heat and sweating. It’s uncomfortable, especially when you have a physical job to do, and best avoided by staying cool in high humidity. Heat rash is characterized by: 

  • Patches of redness
  • Clusters of small blisters or pimples

Construction Heat Safety Tips

Let’s recap some of the most important elements in hot weather construction safety: 

  • Schedule work for the coolest, most shaded times of day
  • Adjust workloads to align strenuous jobs with cooler months 
  • Take frequent breaks in the shade or air conditioning 
  • Keep a filled water bottle on hand at all times to stay hydrated
  • Wear tightly-woven, loose-fitting UPF clothing 
  • Apply and reapply sunscreen frequently throughout the day
  • Try vests, towels, and other gear to cool down fast
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol on workdays 
  • Eat right to replenish nutrients lost in sweat
  • Know the risk factors and signs of heat-related illness
  • Host routine safety talks on sun exposure and heat illness
  • Be ready to respond immediately to heat stroke 

Keep Cool, Block Rays – With UPF Clothing For Construction Workers

For people who work in offices, the forecast isn’t that important. (Though they will likely still complain about it.) But for construction crews, the elements are more than a part of life–they can even be a threat of death. 

Do everything possible to mitigate the risks of heat exposure, starting with outfitting your crew in sun-protective UPF clothing. Then thank them around the all-important water cooler for a job well done. 

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