Every year, the Australian summer is getting hotter and hotter. It seems that new records for extreme weather are being set one year only to be broken again the next year! This has a profound effect on construction workers, particularly those working from heights on unsheltered scaffoldingstructures. Given that scaffolders are already working in a hazardous environment, the heat can have devastating consequences as it severely effects worker performance, efficiency, and safety.
It’s vital that contractors implement control measures to manage heat properly so their workers remain safe on scaffolding equipment and can continue working without any adverse health effects. While scaffold workers are generally physically fit and acclimatised to the heat, it’s still important that they are educated in managing heat and follow the correct work procedures. Today, we’re going to explore some of the techniques used to minimise the risk of personal heat stress and manage hydration on hot summer days.
Types of heat stress disorders
The following outlines the type of heat stress disorders,which range from minor discomforts to life-threatening, that can be experienced by workers in hot environments.
- Heat Rash – Also known as ‘prickly heat’, heat rash is the most common issue experienced in hot working environments. Symptoms include red blotches, itchiness, and a prickling sensation on the skin when sweating.
- Heat Cramps – In extreme conditions where the body loses too much salt through excessive sweating, workers may experience heat cramps. Symptoms include muscle spasms and painful lumps within muscles.
- Heat Exhaustion – When the body can’t keep blood flowing to vital organs and sends blood to the skin to reduce body temperature, workers experience heat exhaustion. Symptoms include weakness, headaches, breathlessness, nausea, vomiting, and fainting.
- Heat Stroke – Occurs when body temperatures rises to critical levels and the body can no longer cool itself. Symptoms include confusion, irrational behaviour, loss of consciousness, convulsions, lack of sweating, and abnormally high body temperatures.
To prevent these heat stress disorders and dehydration, it’s paramount that workers are educated in the signs and symptoms along with the techniques used to manage hydration. For example, thirst is a late warning sign of dehydration where the body has already reached 2% dehydration and workers may experience a reduction in concentration, alertness, and reaction times along with an increased heart rate.
Dehydration at 3% is comparable to blowing 0.08 on a breathalyser and has a considerable impact on cognitive abilities. Dehydration at 4% stunts co-ordination and reaction times, whilst dehydration at 15% causes death.
To reduce the risks of working in a hot environment, management should implement the following control measures:
- Workers are provided with frequent breaks in a cool environment (around 250C)
- Provide plenty of cool (not cold) drinking water
- Increase air movement by providing fans where applicable
- Make special allowances for workers wearing PPE or equipment that retains heat and restricts the evaporation of sweat
- Ideally, arrange work to be carried out in the cooler parts of the day
In addition to this, workers have a responsibility to take measures to reduce the risks of heat stress disorders and maintain hydration. These measures include:
- Begin work adequately hydrated
- Wear light clothing that facilitates the evaporation of sweat
- Drink small volumes of water (250ml) every half an hour – don’t wait until you’re thirsty
- Carry a drink bottle
- Maintain energy and replace electrolytes with regular meal breaks
- Avoid coffee, tea, and beer which dehydrates the body and makes you pass urine more often
- Avoid eating hot, heavy meals which increases your internal body temperature and diverts blood flow away from the skin
- Understand the effects of pre-existing medical conditions (overweight, excessive alcohol consumption) on the vulnerability of heat stress
Always keep in mind that fatigue accelerates heat stress disorders so sufficient sleep and rest is needed to maintain energy levels. While a simple misstep due to dehydration on the ground is fairly harmless, it would have severe consequences on a scaffolding platform.
If you require any further information on managing heat on scaffolding this summer, reach out to the professionals at Uni-Span by phoning our team on 1300 882 825.