Working in hot conditions can be hazardous, but in the construction industry it's often a necessity. Construction workers are among those at highest risk of heat-related illnesses, including heat exhaustion and heat stroke that can occur when the body has to work too hard to cool down.
Site managers and supervisors are required under WHS laws to manage heat risks for workers, while workers themselves are expected to understand these risks and to take appropriate preventive measures.

Here are some of the most effective ways construction workers can beat the heat, stay healthy and stay focused in hot conditions.

Stay hydrated

Dehydration is one of the most common risks of working in heat, which contributes to other heat-related illnesses. Symptoms of dehydration can include a dry mouth or swollen tongue, weakness, dizziness and reduced sweat and urine.

To avoid dehydration, workers should drink water or electrolyte drinks every 15 to 20 minutes. Diuretic drinks such as coffee and soft drinks should be avoided, as these can increase the risk of dehydration.

Avoid peak heat

Scheduling work earlier in the morning to avoid the hottest times of the day will reduce heat-related risks. If possible, work should also be planned around the hottest months of the year and heatwaves.

Take regular breaks

Working in the heat for long periods of time is dangerous. Regular breaks in shaded and cool areas are vital for avoiding overheating and exhaustion. Any worker showing symptoms of heat stress should spend at least five minutes in the shade to recover.

Get acclimatised

New workers are more likely to experience heat-related symptoms than those who are used to working in the conditions and develop a higher tolerance. They should start out with a reduced workload for up to a week to give their bodies time to adjust. This also applies to workers returning from holidays and other absences.

Dress appropriately

Restrictive or heavy clothing can make heat symptoms worse by preventing the evaporation of sweat and blocking air movement. This can include some PPE. Workers should instead wear light, loose-fitting clothing made from natural fibres that help the body to breathe. Moisture-wicking properties also help to fight humidity.

Shield and shade

Site managers should ensure that heat-producing machinery and hot surfaces are protected by barriers or identified by warning signs to inform workers of the risk. Shade should also be provided as much as possible to protect workers from direct sunlight.

Cool and ventilate

Cooling systems such as air conditioners and fans should be used when possible to help lower ambient temperatures, especially inside structures that can become hotter than the air outside.

Under WHS regulations, organisations must also ensure good ventilation by installing exhaust fans and ventilators and opening windows to maintain air flow.

Know the warning signs

Even when you're taking precautions to avoid heat-related illnesses, workers should know how to recognise possible symptoms in themselves and others so they can take a break or reduce their workload. They should also notify supervisors about any possible heat-related hazards on the site as early as possible.

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