By Matt King
Late last year, the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for Heat Injury and Illness Prevention in Outdoor and Indoor Work Settings. This year, the regulatory body introduced a National Emphasis Program (NEP) focused on minimizing heat-related illnesses through increased workplace inspections and citations. These two activities, initiated by the federal organization that holds the responsibility of protecting workers across industries, underscore the increasing importance of keeping workers safe and healthy in the face of climate change.
As many of us across the U.S. – and the world – have seen this summer, climate change continues to cause record-shattering temperatures. In July, Boston, MA and Providence, RI both broke heat records previously set in 1933, while Abilene, TX broke its 1936 record. And these are just a few of the countless cities to experience record-breaking heat over the past several months.
This summer’s higher-than-ever heat impacts numerous industries, but the construction industry is particularly vulnerable to the dangers presented by rising temperatures. Construction workers are often in the position of engaging in hard, physical labor outside or in unventilated spaces for hours at a time. During the summer months, the impact of high heat is compounded by the longer hours – due to increased sunlight – construction employees are expected to work. Together, these factors put construction workers in increased danger of developing a heat-related illness or suffering harm due to a heat-caused accident while on the job.
In addition to the medical and safety risks associated with working in extreme heat, those in the construction industry must also be aware of labor lost due to high temperatures – either as the result of workers being sick or injured, or because they are unable to work efficiently on the hottest days.
Construction managers and employers alike have a responsibility to help keep their workers safe and healthy while on the job – and to keep their business operations running smoothly at the same time. With the growing threat of climate change, it’s more important than ever that leaders in the industry are equipped to achieve these ends, even when facing record-breaking temperatures.
One critical factor in worker protection is the type of equipment construction employees are expected to wear while on a job site. Protective gear is essential on any construction site – but choosing the right gear for summer’s punishing temperatures can make a significant impact on overall worker safety and health.
Hard Hat Features Matter
The hard hat is a mainstay of the construction industry, but not all hard hats are created equal. Just as different hats are designed to protect against different worksite dangers, different styles and models come equipped with heat-minimizing features.
When choosing hard hats for high-heat or outdoor environments, employers should start by looking for hats in lighter colors. Studies have shown that lighter hats, such as white, stay the coolest, and darker hats generally retain the most heat overall.
Also, for work environments that don’t involve electrical hazards, many styles of hard hat are built with integrated air vents. These vents can help improve air circulation, thereby reducing the heat that otherwise gets trapped inside a hard hat.
A wider brim is another feature that can help in hot, outdoor work environments by providing workers with added shade.
Reduce Heat Further With Accessories
In addition to choosing the best hard hat for high heat or outdoor environments, decision makers in the construction industry can also equip workers with heat-reducing accessories.
Attachable sunshades and sunshields, for example, can offer increased shade and sun protection to workers laboring in the direct sun. Anti-glare decals, attached underneath a hard hat’s brim, reduce glare from the sunlight. Sweat-wicking brow pads and helmet liners can be worn under a hard hat to further aid in heat reduction.
Looking for accessories like these, which can strategically reduce a worker’s exposure to the sun, is an efficient and effective way to help keep workers from overheating.
Equip Workers With Protective Equipment Designed To Cool
Recognizing climate change as a growing threat to construction workers, companies in the PPE space have innovated in recent years to offer a range of protective gear designed specifically to help keep workers cool. Bullard, for example, offers a range evaporative cooling products that are specially engineered to maintain a constant 55ºF for up to four hours.
Cooling vests, beanies (worn underneath a hard hat), and neck shades are all readily available products that can help ensure worker safety – and safe temperatures – even on the hottest days of the year.
What Else Can Managers Do To Keep Construction Employees Safe?
In addition to equipping workers with the right gear for hot weather, there are a number of other steps and precautions construction managers can take to make sure their workers go home safely at the end of the day.
Scheduling the hardest labor for the coolest times of day, allowing adequate time for breaks and hydration, and educating workers on the symptoms of heat-related illness – and what to do if they or one of their colleagues begins to show those symptoms – are all critical measures to take when sending your workforce out into summer’s heat.
While OSHA is taking important and necessary steps to increase worker safety in extreme temperatures, construction industry managers and employers also have a responsibility to do what they can to protect their workers from heat-related illness. Sourcing the right PPE for our current climate is of paramount importance – and is a simple step managers can take to create a significantly safer work environment for their construction and outdoor employees.
Matt King is the Global Product Portfolio Manager for Head & Face Protection at Bullard.