Heat Stress

Originally published 7/18/2017

Working in a hot environment, such as a construction site, puts stress on the body’s cooling system. When heat is combined with other work stresses – like hard physical labor, loss of fluids, or fatigue – it may lead to heat-related illness, disability or even death. There are three stages to heat-related illness: heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Heat cramps are painful, brief muscle cramps that are brought on because the body has lost minerals through sweating. If cramping occurs, move to a cool area at once. Loosen clothing and drink cool water or an electrolyte replacement beverage. Seek medical aid if the cramps are severe, or don’t go away.

Heat exhaustion can occur after you’ve been exposed to high temperatures for several days and have become dehydrated. Symptoms include confusion, dizziness, headache, fatigue and sometimes nausea. Without proper intervention, heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke. If you experience heat exhaustion, get out of the heat immediately and rest, preferably in an air-conditioned environment. If you can’t get inside, try to find the nearest cool and shady place. Slowly drink fluids. If possible, lie down with your feet and legs slightly elevated.

Heat stroke is the most serious form of heat illness and is a medical emergency. It often occurs after heat cramps or heat exhaustion are not properly cared for. But it can strike even if you have no previous signs of heat illness.

Heat stroke can kill, or cause damage to the brain and other internal organs. Symptoms are similar to heat exhaustion, but the skin is hot and dry and breathing is deep and fast. The victim may collapse. The body is no longer able to sweat, and the body temperature rises dangerously. If you suspect that someone is a victim of heat stroke – also known as sun stroke – call 911 immediately. Move the victim to a cool area and remove excess clothing while waiting on help to arrive. Fan and spray them with cool water. Offer sips of water if the victim is conscious.

There are things you can do to prevent heat-related illnesses.

  • Drink plenty of fluids. Consider beverages that replace electrolytes. Stay away from beverages with caffeine. Caffeine contributes to dehydration.
  • Slow down in hot weather. Your body’s temperature-regulating system faces a much greater workload when the temperature and humidity are high.
  • If possible, get accustomed to the heat gradually.
  • Dress for hot weather. Light colored clothing reflects heat.
  • Get out of the heat occasionally. Take breaks in a cool, shady location.
  • Eat light, cool meals.

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Originally published 05/23/2017

Peak construction season usually means working on hot summer days with soaring temperatures. There are several problems that can occur while working on a construction site in such conditions, however the most common is dehydration.

Dehydration occurs when your body does not have enough fluid. It can be caused by losing too much fluid, not drinking enough fluids, or both. In hot weather, your body expels a lot of water through perspiration as it tries to keep from overheating. The hotter the weather, the more you perspire and the more fluids you need to replace.

A widely held misconception is that everyone needs 64 ounces (eight cups) of fluid each day. While these quantities are appropriate for most people, they don’t take into account a person’s body size or activity level. Though no single formula fits everyone, some nutritionists contend that a more accurate way to determine your fluid requirement is to divide your body weight in half. This is how many ounces of fluid you need daily to meet your basic needs. So a 150-pound person would need to drink at least 75 ounces (just over nine cups) of fluid daily, while a 200-pound individual requires at least 100 ounces (about 12.5 cups).

Levels of dehydration can range from mild to severe based upon how much of the body’s fluid is lost and not replenished. Dehydration can escalate and become a life-threatening illness. Therefore, it is very important to recognize the signs and symptoms of dehydration. These signs and symptoms generally include:

  • Dry or sticky mouth
  • Low or no urine output (concentrated urine appears dark yellow)
  • Light-headedness or dizziness
  • Dry skin
  • Fatigue
  • Confusion
  • Nausea
  • Increased heart rate and breathing

To treat dehydration, re-hydrate the body by drinking plenty of fluids. Stay away from caffeinated drinks. Also, recognize the fact that if you are dehydrated, you have lost sugar, salts and minerals, as well as water. Re-hydration solutions such as sports drinks can be very helpful in this instance.

As with all on-the-job illnesses, prevention is key. During hot and humid weather, don’t neglect your fluid consumption. Don’t wait until you feel thirsty to drink fluids. Once you start to feel thirsty, dehydration could have already begun. Light-weight, light-colored, breathable clothing can also make a difference. Every effort you make to stay cool on hot summer days will go a long way toward staying safe on a construction site.

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Cold Weather Hazards

First published on 01/13/2016

Several potential hazards exist when winter temperatures fall below zero. This Toolbox Talk addresses three of them.

Frostbite is damage to skin and tissue caused by exposure to freezing temperatures. It can cause loss of feeling and color in affected areas. It can affect any part of the body; however, the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers and toes are most likely to be affected. Frostbite can permanently damage body tissue and, in severe cases, can lead to amputation. The risk of frostbite is increased when individuals do not dress appropriately for the weather conditions.

Symptoms of frostbite include numbness; tingling or stinging; aching; and bluish, pail or waxy skin. If you think you are suffering from frostbite, get into a warm location as soon as possible. Unless absolutely necessary, do not walk on frostbitten feet. This increases the damage. Warm the affected area using body heat. For example, place a frostbitten hand under your arm. Do not rub or massage the affected area, because doing so can cause more damage to the skin. Do not use a heating pad, heat lamp, stove, fireplace or radiator for warming. Affected areas are numb and can easily burn.

Trench foot, also known as immersion foot, is caused from prolonged exposure to wet and cold conditions. It can occur at temperatures as high as 60 degrees Fahrenheit if the feet are constantly wet. Wet feet lose heat 25 times faster than dry feet. Therefore, to prevent heat loss, the body constricts blood vessels to shut down circulation in the feet. Skin tissue begins to die due to lack of oxygen and nutrients.

Symptoms of trench foot include reddening of the skin, numbness, leg cramps, swelling, tingling pain and bleeding under the skin. If you are suffering from trench foot, you should remove shoes/boots and wet socks, dry your feet and avoid walking, as this may cause tissue damage.

Chilblains are caused when the skin is repeatedly exposed to temperatures ranging from just above freezing to as high as 60 degrees Fahrenheit. The cold causes damage to the capillary beds (groups of small blood vessels) in the skin. This damage is permanent, and the redness and itching (typically on cheeks, ears, fingers and toes) will return with additional exposure.

Symptoms of chilblains include redness, itching, possible blistering, inflammation and possible ulceration in severe cases. If you have chilblains you should avoid scratching, slowly warm the skin, use corticosteroid creams to relieve itching and swelling and keep blisters and ulcers clean and covered.

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Asphalt Safety

Originally published Sept. 28, 2016

Many construction workers use hot, liquid asphalt materials on a regular basis without incident, but it’s always wise to recognize possible hazards to avoid injury.

To protect against health hazards when working with hot asphalt, wear the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), which includes:

  • Chemical goggles and perhaps a face shield;
  • Thermal insulated gloves with gauntlets that extend up the arm (warn loosely so you can removed them quickly if covered with hot asphalt);
  • Non-slip work boots that protect the ankle; and
  • Pants without cuffs that extend over the top of the boots.

Asphalt workers should keep cool water, a multipurpose fire extinguisher and first aid supplies handy in case someone is injured. If someone is injured from asphalt or asphalt fumes, seek medical help immediately. Basic first aid for asphalt injury include:

For Asphalt Fumes:

  • Move the victim to fresh air.
  • Check the victim for breathing difficulties.
  • Start artificial respiration if breathing stops.
  • Get victim to a physician.

For Cold Asphalt:

  • Remove cold asphalt from the skin with waterless hand cleaner or warm mineral oil.
  • Wash skin thoroughly with soap and water.
  • Remove contaminated clothing and shower at once.
  • If contaminant gets in the eyes, flush the eyes for at least five minutes with water, lifting the upper and lower eyelids occasionally.
  • Get victim to a physician.

For Hot Asphalt:

  • Apply cold water or ice pack to asphalt skin burns.
  • Do not remove asphalt from the skin.
  • Do not bandage the burn.
  • Get victim to a physician.


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Safe Use of Cut Saws

Originally published on July 19, 2016

Construction workers often need to use cut saws to cut pipe, concrete, brick or block. Kickback – when the saw jumps back toward the operator – is the primary cause of serious injury when using a cut saw. Because cut saws are very dangerous, operators must have the proper instruction and training, and be regularly assessed to make sure they know how to safely operate the saw.

You should be in good physical shape and well rested if you are going to use a cut saw. Fatigue can cause you to lose control of the saw. Before you use the saw, familiarize yourself with the manufacturer’s instructions, and never use an abrasive blade on objects for which it was not intended.

When using the saw, hold it firmly with both hands, maintain good balance and footing at all times and avoid using the saw in awkward positions. It is important to position the saw in such a way that you are not bending over or standing directly behind the blade, especially when the guard is pulled back towards the top of the blade. Never overreach or hold the saw above the line of the shoulder.

A kickback can be caused by using the upper part of the cutting blade, or if the wheel is pinched at the front. It can also happen when a cut is interrupted, or when putting the blade back into a cut that has already been started. Material that sags or moves during a cut could bind the wheel or cause a kickback. Make sure that the object you are cutting is fully supported, secured so it cannot roll or slip and does not vibrate. Wet cutting not only helps keep the abrasive cool and reduce dust, but in a pinch situation, the water can act as a lubricant and reduce the energy of reactive forces. The saw’s guard should be designed to prevent cutting with the front and upper quadrant of the blade. You should never pull the guard beyond the limit stop.

A blade lock in can be caused when the work piece shifts, pinching the blade. Make sure that the work piece is clamped so that this can’t happen. You can also cause a lock in if you try to cut too deeply too quickly, or try to cut on a radius. These can lock the blade or cause the diamond segment to pop off. It would be safer to make a shallow guide cut, then come back for a deeper cut.

General safety tips for using a cut saw include the following:

  • Inspect the saw for damage before use, and make sure the guard is in place and secure. Do not use a wheel that has been dropped.
  • Wear the proper personal protective equipment – i.e. eye/face protection, non-slip gloves, ear protection, hard hat, long-sleeved shirt and long pants (but they should not be loose fitting), and a respirator when dusty conditions exist.
  • Fuel the saw outdoors in a well-ventilated area while the engine is cool.
  • Establish a safe work zone to ensure that no one is exposed to any risks because they are too close to the saw while it’s in use.
  • When finished using the saw, turn off the engine and let the wheel stop rotating before carrying the saw or setting it down.
  • When carrying the saw, be sure the hot muffler is on the side away from your body.
  • Store the saw in a cool, dry place. Abrasives are heat and moisture sensitive.

Cut saws are valuable tools in construction, but they can also be dangerous. Safety is one of the most important issues you need to consider before picking up a saw.

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Bees Stings and Spider Bites

Originally published July 5, 2016

Each year, many construction workers experience bee stings and spider bites that are serious enough to make them lose time off the job.


Each species of bee may have a favorite type of nesting spot including inside hollow trees, or in walls or attics. Some build nests that hang from branches or overhangs. You may find them in shrubs, bushes or hedges, or under logs or rock piles. Before you start any project, check the area for bee hives or nests, and call a pest control professional if you need to remove one.

If stung, most people experience local effects like pain, swelling, itching and redness around the site. In rare cases, a person could have a severe allergic reaction. This situation is serious and can cause anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock. Symptoms may take up to 30 minutes to appear and can include:

  • Hives, itching and swelling in areas other than the sting site,
  • Swollen eyes and eyelids,
  • Wheezing,
  • Tightness in the chest and difficulty breathing,
  • Hoarse voice or swelling of the tongue,
  • Dizziness or a sharp drop in blood pressure,
  • Shock, unconsciousness or cardiac arrest.

If you see any signs of a severe allergic reaction – even if you’re not sure – call, or have a co-worker call 911 immediately. Also get medical help if the sting is near the eyes, nose or throat.


In construction, we find spiders everywhere – when climbing onto equipment, getting tools from the back of a pickup truck, in storage areas, or even when working beside a road. Although Indiana is home to nearly 400 species of spiders, we really only have two species to worry about – the black widow and the brown recluse. Neither spider will bite unless disturbed, but when a person is bitten by either of them, they should contact a physician immediately. Prompt medical treatment can prevent severe reactions and lessen the long-range effects of the bite.

The adult female black widow is the dangerous one. She is generally ½ to one inch long, and has a distinctive yellow or red hourglass design on the underside of her shiny black body. If she bites you, you may experience dizziness, blurred vision, breathing difficulty, nausea or sever pain around the bite area.

The brown recluse is general ¼ to ¾ inches long, and is a solid brown color with the shape of a violin or fiddle on the front half of its back. If bitten, you may not notice the bite for an hour or more.

The visible sign of recluse spider poisoning is a small, white blister at the site of the bite. The affected area will enlarge, become inflamed, and the tissue will be hard to the touch. A brown recluse spider bite can also cause damage to skin tissue that could result in an ulcer that won’t seem to heal. As with the black widow, if you experience dizziness, blurred vision, difficulty breathing or sever pain, contact a doctor immediately.

Be safe – be aware of your surroundings. Look for signs of spiders. Wear gloves, and be careful anytime you reach into an area to grab something.

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