Weathering the Storm On the Job

Summertime in Texas can bring many weather-related challenges to the jobsite. Extreme heat, dry conditions and hurricane season are just a few things that require additional attention and education during the summer.

So far this year, Texas has only seen a few days of triple-digit weather, but heat-related illnesses still threaten workers during the more “moderate” temperatures, especially those who work outdoors. In addition to the added dangers extreme heat can have on workers, the heat can create drought conditions that are highly conducive to fires.

  • Educate employees about prevention. Educate your employees on the importance of keeping themselves hydrated, even when not on the clock, to prepare their bodies for the intense heat. Encourage your workers to take frequent breaks to rehydrate and to bring plenty of liquids to work. Encourage workers to wear light-colored clothing made of thin materials to help their bodies breathe and attract less heat from the sun.
  • Recognize the symptoms. Your workers should know the distress symptoms for heat-related illnesses. When your body has a hard time cooling off, it can result in heat cramps, heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Symptoms start as mildly as muscle spasms, but can escalate to shallow breathing, dizziness, nausea, fatigue and general confusion.
  • Provide immediate relief. To treat mild cases of heat illnesses, move the employee to a cool place and provide them with water or an electrolytic beverage. You can also remove as much clothing as possible and apply ice packs under the arms or around the neck. Call for emergency help immediately if the symptoms are more severe.
  • Closely monitor fire hazards. If conditions are extremely dry, you need to check for burn bans that may be in effect where your jobsite is located. Remember that even one spark can ignite a grassfire. Monitor those conditions carefully, and always have fire extinguishers available. If a situation gets out of control, call the local fire department immediately.

Hurricane season typically runs from the beginning of June through the end of November. Remember, you don’t have to be in the direct path of a hurricane to be affected. After all, Hurricane Ike—the most destructive hurricane to ever hit Texas, resulting in $30 billion in damage—caused flooding and downed power lines as far north as Ohio.

  • Start planning early. Develop and consistently review the emergency preparedness plan. Stock up on batteries, flashlights, fuel for emergency generators and chainsaws (in case you need to cut through debris), and supplies that are critical to your workplace operations. Some employees may have to ride out the storm on site. Be sure there is a planned evacuation route and secure location, as well as an adequate supply of food and water, radios, first-aid kits and other survival basics.
  • Practice. Train new hires on emergency procedures. Conduct drills throughout the year to ensure everyone knows what to do if a disaster strikes.
  • Understand your insurance coverage. Review your windstorm, flood and business interruption insurance policies. Find out what they cover, what they don’t cover and what your deductible is. If you have questions, ask your agent.
  • Communicate with your employees. Have a plan for notifying them if, when and how to return to work.
  • Communicate with your customers. Customer communication is especially important if you provide a service that people will need immediately after the storm passes, such as health care or roofing repair.
  • Prepare the job site. Move heavy equipment, materials, tools, vehicles and trailers to secure areas. Stabilize objects that could become airborne in high winds, and make sure exits are clearly marked and not blocked.

The most serious consequence of any workplace accident is the human cost of pain and suffering. While employers spend hours identifying and preparing for potential workplace hazards, nature is not something you can control; but you can be prepared. Preparation and education can make a marked difference in the effects extreme weather can have on your company and employees.

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