August is typically the hottest month of the year and this year is no exception. Whether it’s record temperatures across the northeast or the typical triple digits in the south, we can feel the effects of summer. In many areas, with the increased temperatures come high percentages of humidity, making the safety of employees who work outdoors of paramount importance.
According to the CDC, heat waves kill more people in the U.S. than any other extreme weather event. This is probably due to the fact that most people are simply unaware of the effects of heat, a challenge that must be addressed when you have commercial roofing contractors working on summer projects. After all, heat rises and it can easily be 15 degrees hotter on a roof than on the ground. Coupled with the humidity, it is easier than you might think to become overwhelmed by heat-related illnesses.
Make Employee Safety a Priority
During the summer months, the KPOST team focuses their weekly safety talks on how to stay safe even when working during the heat of the day. In addition to education on the symptoms of heat-related illnesses, KPOST project leaders also ensure that employees understand the best way to manage themselves during these summer months. There are the obvious but still important tactics such as working early or nightly shifts to reduce the amount of time spent in the heat. There are also other tactics KPOST deploys to ensure employee safety including:
- Providing shaded areas via tents on every job site.
- Promoting good hydration by providing water, ice and Gatorade.
- Encouraging work / rest cycles.
KPOST Vice President of Operations Brent McFarlin is responsible for overseeing field operations. Along with the Superintendents, he ensures that all safety measures are executed continuously on every job site.
“Our tenured workforce includes 300 employees and because of our company’s focus on employee safety we’re able to achieve an insurance modification rate of .51. The industry average is over 1.0, so we know that we are doing something right to maintain such a stellar record with a $12 million payroll,” said McFarlin.
Education is Key
According to Jayne Williams, KPOST’s CFO and Safety Officer “We need to make safety personal to our employees. I’m not asking them to adhere to the policies because I’m mean. I want them to be safe and go home at night. It’s very important our employees know why we do this for them.”
Luciano Perez, Safety Manager and Compliance Safety and Health Official (CSHO) for KPOST, ensures that every week the team is reminded of the preparations and precautions to take while working in the heat. These include:
- Wear long sleeve shirts in a light color.
- Apply sunscreen regularly.
- Drink two cups of water every 15 to 20 minutes to stay hydrated.
- Steer clear of energy drinks, caffeinated beverages, colas and alcohol, which can increase chances of dehydration.
KPOST provides its employees with light, 100% cotton clothing, hard hats, gloves and safety glasses as part of their uniform. That is in addition to any necessary gear that might be needed or the addition of running machinery, which also increases the heat. By ensuring employees are well versed on heat-related illnesses and signs of dehydration, KPOST is also ensuring the safety of the project and the customer. During the weekly safety meetings, employees are encouraged to get to know their own limits and understand what the temperature and humidity can do.
“The important thing is for the employee to stop, get hydrated and get into the shade,” said Williams. “Once heat illness starts, it can rapidly overtake a person, so it’s critical to stop at the first signs and take care of yourself.”
Know the Signs
While your body will adapt to working in the heat over time, it is still important to understand the different types of heat-related illnesses and what to do for yourself and others. Another reason KPOST teams are given weekly updates on employee safety and working conditions in hot weather – so they can react appropriately should the need arise.
There are two types of heat-related illnesses, which occur when the body cannot regulate its own temperature. They are heat stroke and heat exhaustion. The symptoms are similar but they show up differently. Heat stroke the person will have a body temperature of more than 103 degrees and often have red, hot dry skin without sweating. Get these people to a cooler area and do everything possible to lower their temperature. Heat exhaustion can occur days later and typically is from lack of fluids. The best course of action is rehydration.
The more likely challenge to working on a commercial roofing project in the summer heat is dehydration. Mild to moderate dehydration symptoms include:
- Dry, sticky mouth.
- Sleepiness or tiredness
- Dry skin
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
KPOST supervisors and employees are trained to know and understand the symptoms, as well as how to react to ensure the safety of the employee, the team and the project. In fact, the KPOST supervisors and foremen have all received the 30-Hour OSHA certification and over 90% of the employees have received the 10-hour OSHA certification.
Hydration and keeping cool are the best course of action to prevent heat-related illnesses or dehydration during hot summer months. Of course keeping employees informed through regularly scheduled safety meetings ensures that they take care of themselves and their team. At the end of the day, it’s all about safety for our employees and our customers.