Architects and engineers are often so focused on the front end of planning that most don’t give a second thought to a handful of essential preparations that keep their people safe. Laborers who will be completing their designs are frequently overlooked, though the health and safety of outdoor workers is of paramount importance to completing a project on-time and on-budget. Additionally, the overall well-being of the project’s surrounding community and the future generations who will inhabit the space have long been forgotten, as well.
Though plenty of businesses have withstood years of success without major mishaps, no one should stand to allow workplace conditions to put any people, working, residing nearby, or not-yet-living, in harm’s way. If you have never before considered the safety of your outdoor workers, here’s what to do to ensure the health and well-being of your employees — and, ultimately, your business.
Understand Threats of Heat and Cold
Indoor workers have the luxury of a perfectly controlled environment, but most outdoor workers must complete their projects every day despite the possibility of extreme temperature. Prolonged exposure to excessive heat and cold can cause a surprising amount of bodily dysfunction, some of which can be permanent if not treated properly.
Heat stress occurs in many workers who toil long hours in hot environments. The most disastrous illness that results from heat stress is undoubtedly heat stroke, which is when the body loses its ability to control its internal temperature. Those who succumb to heat stroke might develop hallucinations, agonizing headaches, and chills, and they should seek emergency medical treatment immediately.
Alternatively, laborers in freezing environments can develop cold stress. Frigid winds can quickly dissipate the body’s heat, resulting in a number of disorders, ranging from non-serious chilblains to potentially life-threatening trench foot and hypothermia. When the body is too chilled, the muscles and brain cannot function properly, leading to confusion, dizziness, and possibly loss of coordination and consciousness. Often, sufferers of cold stress are not aware of the issue until serious dysfunction sets in.
Though outdoor weather is rarely something a business can control, businesses can organize certain types of work during specific times of year. For example, during summer months, outdoor work should take place during the cooler parts of day: morning and evening — and in the winter, vice versa.
Limit Sun Exposure
Sunlight may provide a number of bodily benefits, including lowering blood pressure and bad cholesterol, but too much exposure to the sun’s rays can have terrible ramifications. Though sunburn may seem like a mere inconvenience, research shows that a person’s risk of developing deadly melanoma doubles after just five sunburns, and the survival rate for skin cancer after it has spread is less than 16 percent.
Workers can develop sun poisoning after just 15 minutes of labor in the sunlight. Here’s what businesses can provide to help workers stay safe while the sun shines:
Throughout the year, workers should have constant access to liquids to keep their bodies hydrated. Water loss exacerbates the symptoms of sun poisoning.
About once every hour, outdoor laborers should be allowed a 10-minute rest period to cool off and get out of the sun. These times of rest need not be breaks; employees can still safely complete light work as long as they are under shade.
Businesses must provide a location with full shade to allow outdoor workers reprieve from the sun. For long-term projects, it might be wise to invest in lightweight, durable fabric structures, which not only keeps away harsh sunshine but also mitigates the impact of the project on the surrounding area, lessening ecological damage.
Prevent Against Noise Damage
Loss of hearing is one of the most common occupational illnesses in the United States. Roughly 22 million American workers utilize machinery that creates hazardous noise levels, and with repeated exposure and limited safety precautions, deafness can quickly set in. Additionally, noise pollution can disrupt the balance of nearby ecosystems in surprising ways, which makes the prevention of excessive sound incredibly important for businesses looking to protect their workers and the surrounding community. While it may be impossible to eliminate all loud noise, frequent monitoring and evaluating of sound levels and the implementation of hearing protection devices should keep everyone safe.
Educate About Biological Hazards
Outdoor workers are not only subject to the sun, wind, and rain — many must also contend with living hazards to their safety, including poisonous plants, venomous creatures, and wild diseases. Though businesses cannot (and should not) destroy all potential biological threats, they can educate their workers about local flora and fauna that are dangerous as well as the proper course of action when encountering unsafe wildlife and possible symptoms of bites or stings. Fortunately, most animals and insects prefer to stay away from areas of intense activity, like those around outdoor workers, so laborers likely will not meet many living risks.