2nd August, 2023
How can you stay cool on a construction site during a summer heatwave if you can't control the weather? You might not be able to change the environment, but you can take some simple steps to make your workday more comfortable. Here are some simple and cheap ways to stay cool in construction.
The summer can be one of the best times to be outside. But that's not necessarily true if you have to work in the heat. Doing intensive physically demanding tasks on a hot summer's day is uncomfortable at best - and at worse, working in hot weather is dangerous.
When you are working outdoors on a construction site, you don't have much control over the temperature. You can't just put the air-con on full blast and wait for your workplace to cool down. So unless you have a magical way to cool down the planet, you're stuck with the weather that arrives.
Instead of cooling the environment, you can cool down your body. And while this might mean extra breaks and time off the tools, comfortable and energised workers accomplish more than those suffering in the heat.
This blog post breaks down 12 realistic ways to stay cool on a construction site. They might not all be an option on every construction site, but hopefully, some of these ideas will keep you cool this summer.
Stay healthy by taking care when you are in the heat and giving your body plenty of chances to cool down throughout the day.
Here are twelve ways to cool off on your construction site.
Heat in the summer tends to peak around mid-afternoon 3 pm - 6 pm. That's because the heat builds during the day before cooling down at night.
Could you make use of the cooler mornings?
If you usually work 8.30 am - 4 pm, you could start early and finish before the hottest time of the day, for example, 6.30 am - 2.00 pm, if your project allows.
Don't forget to consider the neighbours by keeping the noise down before 7 am if you are in a residential zone.
The temperature you see on your weather app is the temperature in the shade. And there's a reason why they measure the temperature under a screen. Under the sun's glare, direct radiation will make you feel even hotter than the air temperature.
If you are working in the sun, you will feel hotter than the forecast temperatures.
And if you are working above tarmac or concrete, get ready to go up a few more degrees. These materials absorb the heat and become hotter than the air around them. That's why it gets warmer in cities.
Use shaded areas on your site to stay cool - especially during the hottest or sunniest parts of the day.
The shade will help to keep you cool and create a fresher working environment by preventing the materials from heating up around you.
If you don't have any natural shade, you might be able to create shade with a sturdy canopy or gazebo.
Speaking of keeping things fresh, keeping your lunch in the car on a hot summer's day will be the opposite - gross! Refreshments should be that - refreshing.
Getting a cold drink or grabbing a fresh snack will help you to cool off when you can take a break.
A site fridge is an excellent place for workers to store food, snacks and drinks and keep them cold throughout the day.
If you have a site office or canteen with an electricity supply, providing a fridge can help give workers access to cold food and drinks when they need to cool down.
If a fridge is not an option - what about a cool box instead?
Stick some freeze boards or ice packs inside a cool box with your food and drink - it should stay cold all day.
A cool box might not be as good a fridge, and you'll need to be more cautious about how often you open it to keep things cold, but it could stop you from getting a poorly tummy from lukewarm food.
And while there's no legal requirement that drinking water must be refrigerated, on a hot summer's day, there's no better way to cool off than with an ice-cold drink.
Speaking of drinks, you need plenty on a hot summer's day.
In the summer, especially in the heat, you will sweat more as your body tries to cool down. That's good for regulating your body temperature, but it does mean you need to drink more to stay hydrated.
Having a supply of drinking water on your construction sites is a legal requirement (under the CDM regulations), and water is one of the best drinks for getting hydrated.
Drinking water 3.—(1) An adequate supply of wholesome drinking water must be provided or made available at readily accessible and suitable places.
Learn more about the legal requirements for welfare facilities on construction sites.
Energy drinks can also help - but watch out for the extra sugar and the impact this can have on your weight and teeth. Tea and coffee also count for keeping hydrated, but they are not the best drinks to have when trying to cool off!
Light and loose clothing is the best option in the summer when you need to keep cool. Your body will sweat, and you need ventilation to let that sweat evaporate and cool you down.
In construction, you'll probably be wearing protective clothing too. If your clothes become sweaty and uncomfortable, taking an extra set and changing into a fresh dry top is a good idea.
Taking your top off in the sun is not a good idea due to the risk of skin damage and exposure to harmful materials and equipment, so remember to make the most of the shade on your breaks.
It's not always easy for your body to cool off during construction work. You are probably wearing extra protective clothing, and as we have just discussed, this can prevent sweat evaporation and heat loss.
And you are probably doing physically intensive work.
And you might be out in direct sunlight.
It's ok to take breaks.
Breaks are when you can retreat to a shaded and cool place, take off your PPE and extra layers, and let your body chill.
It's better (and safer) to work in short productive bursts. Think of it like squeezing an orange - you only have so much juice. Once it's run out, squeezing for longer won't get more out.
It's better to take a break to cool off and re-energise instead of staying out in the heat when you are exhausted and losing focus.
Most of the time, there's plenty of fresh air on a construction site. When you're working outside, you usually have a breeze. If you don't, it's pretty hard to create one across a construction site.
But during the hottest summer days, you might need to keep windows shut to your cabins to keep the hot air out. Or there might not be any breeze bringing in the fresh air.
Using a fan in these indoor environments can help keep them cool. And, providing the air in your shady spots is colder than your body, a fan will help you cool down when you take a break.
Although it probably isn't possible to cool down your entire construction site, it might be possible to cool down your break area.
Air conditioning is a great way to cool down your site cabin or canteen. Unlike fans, they don't just move the air around - they cool it too.
Some site cabins come with air conditioning as an optional upgrade. And portable air conditioning units are also available (and won't break the budget!).
As a bonus, after a hot heatwave night, your team will be eager to get to work for the air-conditioned cabin!
Air conditioning might not be a reality for every construction site, but if you have a cool box handy, try keeping a cold flannel ready for action.
When you feel the heat getting to you, using the flannel as a cold compress on your face and wrists can help you cool off quickly.
In the hottest heatwaves, if the first ten tips are not enough for you, you might need to think about changing your schedule.
Working hard in extreme heat will probably not have the best outcome. Work might be sloppy, you might lose concentration, and you could have an accident. Even if you get through it, your health could suffer. And heatstroke can be life-threatening.
So if the temperature is extreme, think about the best way to work to avoid getting ill from heat stress and exhaustion. Maybe that physically demanding task should be done early in the morning when temperatures are lower. Or perhaps the most demanding tasks can wait a few days until the forecast looks more reasonable.
If you try to 'carry on as normal' in extreme heat, you're setting yourself up to suffer.
Yes, construction work still happens in hot countries. But do you know what else construction workers in hot countries have? Siestas and time to adjust. Their bodies are more used to the heat, and their culture, infrastructure, and buildings, are built for the heat.
So be cautious, especially in the first few days of a heatwave, and let your body adjust.
And you shouldn't just worry about the heat during a heatwave. We're lucky enough in the UK to get plenty of hot summer days - even if it might not always seem that way!
Thanks to climate change, extreme changes in weather are happening more often. The temperate can vary by 10+ degrees from one day to the next.
The problem with these extreme changes in the weather is that your body doesn't have time to adapt, putting you at an increased risk of heat stress and even heatstroke.
Learn about the heat stress symptoms to look out for and how to avoid them with our working in hot weather toolbox talk.
Hopefully, these tips help you stay cool when working on construction sites during hot summer days.
This article was written by Emma at HASpod. Emma has over 10 years experience in health and safety and BSc (Hons) Construction Management. She is NEBOSH qualified and Tech IOSH.
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