Most people look forward to the longer, sunnier days of summer. But when it comes to working outside, especially on industrial rooftops, summer can pose a big threat. Heat, high humidity levels, and intense sunlight can not only damage your facility’s roof, they can also have a serious impact on employees working on the rooftop during summer months. Heat-related illnesses and accidents are a major concern.
Educating employees on heat safety, providing mandatory cool-down breaks, and implementing rooftop fall protection systems like safety rails are just a few of the ways to alleviate these potential problems. Before you expose your employees to the summer extremes, learn more about the damage the sun can do, and what you can do about it.
Regardless of the season, workers still need to carry out repairs, maintenance, and construction activities. Summer often is the most convenient time to get maintenance work done – less falling debris, wind, and inclement weather. Intense sunlight, high temperatures, and increased humidity, however, can cause health concerns, contribute to accidents, and can even lead to death. For your workers’ safety, its crucial to understand how summer weather affects the human body, and how to mitigate its effects.
Here are the top heat-related illnesses to look out for:
- Heat Rash & Sunburn: Over-exposure to the sun can cause the skin to break out in a rash that looks like tiny blisters, especially prevalent in the chest, neck, groin, and underarm areas. A sunburn turns the skin bright red and is hot and painful to the touch. While neither is immediately life-threatening, they cause discomfort and make it difficult to maintain focus while working.
- Heat Cramps: Heat cramps are muscles spasms, usually in the arms, abdomen, and calves. They can strike when there’s a loss of fluid, salt, magnesium, and/or potassium. They are often the first sign of heat exhaustion or heat stroke and can be particularly dangerous for those with existing heart conditions.
- Heat Exhaustion: Physical exertion in the heat can lead to serious heat exhaustion. Symptoms may include heavy sweating, rapid pulse, muscle spasms, nausea or vomiting, and headache. In severe cases, an individual can become dizzy and faint, a result of your body overheating. All of these symptoms create unsafe, unhealthy conditions for workers and lead to increased risk of falls.
- Heat Stroke: This is the most severe heat-related problem a person can encounter. It is a medical emergency that requires immediate action. Its signs and symptoms include increased heart rate, high temperature, confusion, dizziness, headache, and loss of consciousness. Oftentimes, the person has progressed through the previous effects of the sun to get to this point.
The onset of all of the above illnesses can be swift. It is of utmost importance that your employees do not go on the roof alone, and that you employ safety rails and other rooftop fall protection devices in the event of cramping, dizziness, and fainting.
More times than not, high heat and humidity levels don’t stop work from being done. Proactive measures to improve employee’s rooftop safety must be both a priority and mandatory before any work begins. To keep your workers’ healthy and safe, make sure you:
- Provide plenty of water for workers.
- Create shaded, cool areas for breaks.
- In the event of excessive perspiration, provide an electrolyte replacement as well as water (such as a sports drink) to replace lost nutrients.
- Encourage workers to sit down and cool off frequently.
- Require workers to wear light, loose-fitting clothing.
- Require wide-brimmed hats to protect the face, neck, and ears.
- Provide eye protection that blocks UV rays.
- Encourage workers to use sunblock with an SPF of 50.
- Avoid scheduling the heaviest work between 10am and 4pm, when the sun is strongest.
- Frequently check on workers for signs of heat stress.
- Encourage workers to keep a careful watch on one another.
- Encourage all employees to use OSHA’s Heat Safety Tool for their smartphone.
- Install rooftop fall protection devices such as safety rails around leading edges, roof holes, and anywhere a fall hazard is present
The rooftop of your facility protects your building’s structure from elemental damage. In turn, you need to protect your employees that go up there. More than likely, you’ll need to have employees on the roof at some point during the summer season. Following OSHA guidelines for rooftop safety, installing rooftop fall protection systems, and applying a little common sense goes a long way to ensuring workers stay safe and healthy.
Providing adequate rooftop safety for your workers is not just the right thing to do, it’s your legal obligation. By addressing this important issue ahead of time, your company, building, and employees will be well-protected for years to come.