We’ve all experienced those days when stepping outside feels like walking straight into an oven. While we may find solace in air-conditioned spaces or indulging in cold beverages, some can’t simply escape the scorching temperatures. Construction workers are out there, braving the heat to build our roads, bridges, and buildings. Imagine having to endure the blazing sun without even a water break to help cool down and stay hydrated.
Unfortunately, the revocation of the water break mandate in Texas exposed workers to the dangers of working in extreme heat. Effective September 1, 2023, the new law revokes the requirement for certain construction workers to receive mandated water breaks. It affects the ordinances in Austin and Dallas, where workers are entitled to 10-minute breaks every four hours.
Apart from Texas, several other states, like Nevada, have in recent years refused to mandate employers to provide water breaks. Meanwhile, only California, Oregon, and Washington require these breaks to ensure the well-being and safety of workers.
In recent years, the U.S. has experienced record-breaking heatwaves and rising temperatures. And this extreme heat is no longer just a discomfort—it has become a deadly force. Data from the National Weather Service reveals that extreme heat has caused more deaths than other weather-related hazards.
For ten years, from 2011 to 2021, exposure to excessive heat contributed to the death of 42 workers in Texas. Meanwhile, the Pacific Northwest states of Oregon and Washington experienced a devastating heatwave in 2021. This resulted in the deaths of hundreds of individuals. In response to this catastrophe, both states swiftly implemented emergency standards requiring access to shade and water. Oregon took it a step further by permanently establishing these measures. Washington is solidifying similar regulations to safeguard the well-being of outdoor workers.
These examples demonstrate the critical importance of addressing the risks of extreme heat facing construction workers. It is not merely a matter of comfort or inconvenience—it is a matter of life and death.
Understanding the Risks
Construction workers are highly susceptible to heat-related illnesses, with heat exhaustion commonly occurring. If not promptly treated, this condition can escalate to heat stroke.
The nature of construction work environments makes workers more vulnerable to heat stress due to direct sunlight exposure. This is compounded by the physical exertion required in these settings. Workers over 65, those who are overweight, have pre-existing medical conditions, or take medications affecting the body’s temperature regulation are at a heightened risk.
The risks of heat stress go beyond immediate health concerns and can have long-term effects on workers’ well-being. Chronic conditions such as kidney damage, heart disease, and heat-related cancers can arise from prolonged exposure to high temperatures.
Furthermore, dehydration from prolonged intense physical activity without appropriate hydration can heighten the risk of accidents and injuries. Minimizing indirect risk factors is just as crucial as addressing the direct effects of heat stress.
At MBE CPAs, we specialize in conducting comprehensive risk assessments designed specifically for construction companies. Our goal is to help you identify and effectively manage potential work-related hazards, ensuring your employees’ well-being and compliance with OSHA regulations.
The Impact of the Regulatory Gap: Does It Release Employers from Responsibility?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is still developing a workplace heat index. While this regulatory gap provides leeway for some construction companies to neglect their responsibility to protect the health and safety of their workers, it does not excuse them from taking appropriate measures to prevent heat-related illnesses.
Employers play a crucial role in providing employees with a safe and healthy work environment. This obligation extends to protecting them from heat stress in hot weather conditions. Under the OSHA’s general duty clause, they have a legal responsibility to provide their workers with a workplace free from recognized hazards, which includes ensuring they have access to water, shade, and regular breaks.
Failing to take necessary precautions to protect workers from heat-related illnesses can result in preventable harm and even fatalities. It can also lead to legal repercussions, as employers may face penalties and lawsuits for violating OSHA regulations.
Mitigating the Risks
Employers must take proactive steps to protect their workers by creating and enforcing their safety protocols. This includes investing in heat safety training, monitoring weather conditions, providing water and shade, scheduling, and leveraging technology.
- Hydration: Encourage workers to drink plenty of water throughout the day and provide access to clean, cool water sources throughout the work site.
- Breaks and Rest: Even if water breaks are no longer mandated, implement regular breaks in shaded or air-conditioned areas to allow workers to cool down and rest. This will not only keep them safe but also increase their productivity.
- Protective Clothing and Equipment: Provide lightweight, breathable clothing and encourage the use of wide-brimmed hats and sunscreen to shield workers from the sun’s direct heat.
- Training and Education: Equip workers with knowledge about the signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses and ensure they know the appropriate actions to take if they or their coworkers experience these symptoms. Additionally, encourage workers to speak up if they feel unwell or notice a colleague showing signs of heat stress or heat-related illnesses.
- Flexibility in Scheduling: Consider adjusting work schedules to avoid the day’s hottest parts and prioritize tasks requiring less physical exertion during peak temperatures.
- Leveraging Technology: Wearable devices like smart bracelets or patches can monitor hydration levels and remind workers to drink water. Monitoring systems can track workers’ activity levels and alert them when they need to take breaks. Embracing such technological innovations can significantly enhance the safety measures in construction sites.
Prioritizing Worker Safety in the Face of Rising Temperatures
The risks of heat-related illnesses and fatalities are well-documented in the construction industry. Neglecting these dangers not only jeopardizes the well-being of workers but also exposes companies to legal and ethical consequences.
We can mitigate the risks by prioritizing preventive action and developing safety protocols that consider heat stress a possible hazard.
Don’t wait until it’s too late. Contact MBE CPAs today to ensure that your construction company meets and exceeds the necessary standards for worker safety. Let’s work together to protect those who build our communities from the emerging threats of heat-related sicknesses!
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