silhouette survey engineer working  in a building site over BlurDid you know that summer 2020 ranked as one of the hottest on record for the United States? This summer is shaping up to be another one for the record books, creating challenging conditions on construction sites throughout the country.

More than a third of all U.S. occupational deaths from heat exposure happen on construction sites, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Each year, thousands of construction workers across the country experience dehydration, heat exhaustion or the life-threatening condition, heatstroke.

Dehydration happens when your body lacks the proper amount of fluids and electrolytes to keep working properly. Heat exhaustion is a more serious condition than dehydration that happens when the body loses a large amount of water and salt. Left untreated, dehydration and heat exhaustion can lead to heatstroke, a life-threatening condition that can result in damage to the brain or other important organs.

Workers and their supervisors should be on the lookout for headaches, dizziness, fainting, weakness, irritability, confusion, thirst, nausea, and vomiting. People react differently to dehydration and heat exhaustion — there may be only one or two symptoms or all the symptoms. Once it’s reached the level of heatstroke, hospitalization is likely required.

It’s also important to know the risk factors. Those who aren’t used to working in the heat are at high risk, for example. In fact, most people who died from heatstroke in recent years were in their first few days on the job or were working during a heatwave. Those who haven’t worked in hot weather for a week or more need time to adjust by taking more breaks and not doing as much strenuous work during the first several weeks on the job. Some health conditions put individuals at greater risk of heat illness, such as diabetes, kidney and heart problems.

It’s also important to know what to do once you see someone is suffering from dehydration or heat exhaustion. Workers need to know to be alert to unusual behavior and talk to a supervisor if they are worried about a co-worker — that it could be a matter of life and death.

The good news? Dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke are highly preventable. Here are some simple — yet highly effective — ways to stay hydrated:

  • Drink small amounts frequently, as opposed to larger amounts less often.
  • Drink even if you don’t feel thirsty and drink more when the temperature is higher By the time you’re thirsty, you’re probably dehydrated. Some people limit water intake because they worry they will have to take too many bathroom breaks. In fact, most of the added hydration will be sweated out.
  • Avoid drinks like sodas or coffee that have caffeine, or alcoholic drinks – these drinks can dehydrate you and can make it more dangerous to work in the heat. Avoid sugary sports drinks. Water is the best liquid for staying hydrated.