Keeping your Cool in Construction

Keeping your Cool in Construction

23rd August 2016

We’ve already warned of the dangers of heat in the construction industry, particularly during the hotter summer weather when sunburn or sunstroke is a real risk for those who work outdoors.  Today we’re taking a closer look at the risks associated with becoming overheated when working.

When a person is in a hot environment the heart will pump up to 48% of the blood to the skin in order to cool things down.  This will not only release heat from the body, but water will also be released in the form of perspiration.  Anybody losing 2% of their body weight due to perspiration is in danger of heat exhaustion which will affect performance and the dehydration may also lead to poor decision making processes which can result in an increase in the likelihood of a work related accident.  According to research a 2% loss of body weight impairs visual motor tracking, short term memory, attention span and arithmetic efficiency!  

When heat exhaustion overtakes a person, the body cannot keep up with its internal heat generation levels and the inner core temperature rises.  The subsequent amount of blood being pumped to the skin to create perspiration means that there is less blood being delivered to vital organs, muscles and the brain.  When the major organs, the muscles and the brain are only getting half of the blood they usually get, the heart has to beat faster to try to keep them nourished.  If you consider that the fluid loss through perspiration thickens the blood, then it’s little wonder that a heart attack is a major by-product of heat exhaustion.  It can take up to 24 hours for the body to absorb enough fluids to fully rehydrate and core body temperature to return to normal levels.

For those of us working in the construction industry, particularly for those who work at height, heat exhaustion can present a very real risk.  Work should be curtailed while fluid is replaced or the dehydration rate should be slowed by using personal cooling methods like fans.  Continuous cooling can actually boost productivity so using active cooling products are useful in avoiding heat stress.  Nowadays there are specially designed shirts and vests that incorporate active cooling technology which can slow down fluid loss caused by sweating.  Studies show that water is most effective at cooling the body, up to 28 times faster than air cooling.  Active cooling of about 40% of the body surface can significantly reduce the dangers of heat stress.

Here in the UK, we tend to ignore the dangers of overheating in the work place – after all, our summers can be so short that we tend not to take special measures to protect ourselves from the heat.  However, anybody working outdoors in the sun, especially in riskier situation such as working at height, using access equipment of any type, would do well to consider the dangers associated with heat exhaustion and ensure that they are protected from the adverse effects of the heat.