Heat Stress is Serious

Originally published on June 20, 2016

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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The Dangers Associated With Complacency

Originally published 12/19/2017

Complacency is one of the biggest problems we face when completing day-to-day tasks…even in construction.

Webster’s Dictionary defines complacency as “self-satisfaction, especially when accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies.” This state of mind can affect many things such as productivity, quality of work and safety. In fact, when it comes to safety, complacency can be a literal “killer” on the job. It’s easy to underestimate the risks of tasks we perform regularly, or fail to notice a change in our environment when we become complacent. When you work in “auto-pilot mode” and stop paying attention to what you are doing, it can lead to taking short cuts and risks.

Think ahead as you approach each task; even if you do the task every day. Each time you approach the task consider:

  • What you are working with,
  • What you will be doing,
  • Where you will be going, and
  • What could go wrong.

The message here is “never let your guard down.”

  • Follow established protocols and procedures.
  • Attend daily safety meetings and discuss changes and potential hazards that could develop on your worksite.
  • Wear the appropriate PPE for the task you are performing.
  • Review a JSA before starting a task.
  • Stop and think about the safety aspect of the task you are about to start.
  • Maintain good housekeeping and organization.
  • Take note of other workers or equipment coming into your area.
  • Report any and all perceived or potential hazards on the worksite.
  • Report all near misses then discuss them. This will help you identify trends, correct current problems and prevent future incidents and injuries.
  • Coach and mentor each other. Watch out for each other.

All of these actions require conscious effort. It’s impossible to be complacent when you’re putting these things into action.

So remember to stay focused. Plan ahead. Follow protocols and procedures and watch out for one another no matter how often you’ve done the same task. Each of us is responsible for the safety of our worksite. Don’t let yourself or your co-workers down.

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Workplace Violence

Originally published 12/12/2017

Workplace violence can happen anywhere, any time – including on a construction site. It can come from a co-worker or a stranger. Workers that are particularly vulnerable are those that exchange money with the public; deliver passengers, goods or services; work alone or in small groups during early morning hours or late at night; or work in high-crime areas. According to an OSHA Fact Sheet, some two million American workers are victims of workplace violence each year.

Workplace violence is any physical assault, threatening behavior or verbal abuse occurring in the work setting. Before people explode, they may give signals that something is wrong. Some of those signals might include:

  • Social isolation.
  • Frustration, confusion or faulty decision-making.
  • Complaints of unfair treatment.
  • Excessive lateness or absenteeism.
  • Blaming others for mistakes.
  • Inappropriate comments about revenge, violence or weapons.
  • Disrespect for authority.
  • Overreacting to criticism.
  • Anger and hostility.

The best protection employers can offer is to establish a zero-tolerance policy toward workplace violence against or by their employees. Make sure all employees know and understand the policy and that they understand that all claims will be investigated and, where necessary, remedied.

Nothing can guarantee that an employee will not become a victim of workplace violence. These steps, however, can help reduce the odds:

  • Learn how to recognize, avoid or diffuse potentially violent situations by attending personal safety training programs on workplace violence.
  • Don’t get drawn into arguments.
  • Take verbal threats seriously, but don’t respond to them. Report all threats to your supervisor.
  • Report all incidents of bullying and sexual harassment.
  • Watch for unauthorized visitors – even those who appear to have legitimate business at your work site or office.
  • Report suspicious people or vehicles.
  • Don’t give out information about fellow employees.
  • Devise a plan such as predetermined code words, so that one employee can tell another about a dangerous customer or visitor without tipping off the suspect.
  • Trust your instincts.

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Safety Data Sheets (SDS)

Originally published 11/28/2017

Most employees on construction sites are already familiar with Safety Data Sheets (SDSs). SDSs are prepared by the chemical manufacturer and are designed to provide workers and emergency responders with proper procedures for handling or working with hazardous chemicals. If an SDS does not arrive with a shipment of chemicals or products, contact the salesperson or manufacturer for a copy before using the product.

SDSs should be available for immediate use in case there is an accident involving a chemical, and every employee working with chemicals or hazardous materials should know where the SDS binder is located on the site. Remember, when an SDS provides limited or vague information about a chemical, do NOT assume the chemical is not hazardous.

Safety Data Sheets have 16 sections, which should appear in the following order:

  • Section 1: Identifies the product and the manufacturer.
  • Section 2: Lists hazard classification, signal word, hazard statements, precautionary statements and pictograms that appear on the container label.
  • Section 3: Composition/information on ingredients.
  • Section 4: First-aid measures.
  • Section 5: Fire-fighting measures.
  • Section 6: Identifies how to handle spills, leaks or accidental release of the chemical, as well as containment and cleanup practices.
  • Section 7: Handling and storage.
  • Section 8: Exposure controls/personal protection.
  • Section 9: Physical and chemical properties of the product.
  • Section 10: Stability and reactivity of the product.
  • Section 11: Explains the health effects, if any, of over-exposure to the chemical.
  • Section 12: Ecological information.
  • Section 13: Disposal considerations.
  • Section 14: Transport information.
  • Section 15: Regulatory information.
  • Section 16: Other information.

Supervisors should regularly gather employees and review the SDSs for commonly-used products. Discuss how to:

  • Fight a fire involving the chemical,
  • Administer first aid if chemical exposure occurs,
  • Notify emergency services,
  • Clean up a spill, and
  • Determine proper PPE

If you work with chemicals and hazardous materials and don’t know where the Safety Data Sheets are on your jobsite, ask a supervisor.

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