Workers must recognize symptoms of heat stress

Summers in El Paso are hot. Sure, it’s a dry heat. You try standing on an road surface as hot asphalt is being laid or pouring hot tar on a roofing project when the air temperature is already in the upper 90s or above 100 degrees. It’s a dry heat, but then again, so is your oven.


If you have to work outside during the El Paso summer doing construction work, there is one more risk you face beyond the normal construction workers’ accidents, and that is heat stress.


Heat stress is not simply feeling a little warm on the job and sweating. Heat stress is deadly. It can lead to heat stroke or heat exhaustion. In addition to it being a risk in itself, it can cause other non-heat related injuries.


Sweaty palms can cause power tools to slip and cause injuries. If you are working on that blast-furnace-like roof, it can cause dizziness, which can lead to falls, which are a leading cause of death for construction workers.


Heat stroke is the most dangerous heat-related problem for construction workers. You may be in the sun or wearing protective equipment, and your body can lose its ability to regulate your temperature.


You may experience hallucinations or the chills, your speech may slur and you may feel an intense throbbing headache. This symptoms need to be quickly recognized and the worker must be taken out of the sun, to a cool, shaded location.


Applying cool water to their clothes or misting and fanning their body is essential, as failure to cool the body temperature could cause severe and permanent injuries.


All employers need to properly train their supervisors, foremen and workers as to these dangers and make certain they know how to recognize the symptoms of heat stress before it leads to injuries or worse.


Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Heat Stress,” April 11, 2014

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