It was certainly stiflingly hot in our office and on site in the 40 degree UK record-breaking heat we saw last week. If you were working in the hot weather too, then you may have come across new set of challenges to working safely at height in extreme heat.
In the same way that we plan ahead for working at height in cold weather, we have to take a similar approach when operating in extreme heat by being prepared, understanding what the additional hazards might be and managing the risks of working at height.
How do high temperatures affect job sites?
Strong sunshine and high temperatures will, of course, heat up the surfaces they come into contact with – from airport runways to roof structures. It is possible the sun could melt roofing materials and weaken the structure of a roof or building causing danger to those working on it and below it. Project managers planning for more spells of hotter weather in the years ahead are looking more to using white roofing materials which reflect the heat, so absorbing it less. This will both improve the structural integrity of the building and keep the space below cooler.
Machines can also overheat in excessively hot conditions and it could help, therefore, to store them in the shade when not in use, wherever possible.
Is it possible to work safely at height in extreme heat?
There is no reason to stop working at height in extreme heat as long as you take sensible precautions, are mindful of potential dangers and do a thorough risk assessment first.
Ask yourself; what are the hazards from temperatures, bright sunlight, weather conditions such as dust, wind and thunderstorms as well as your surroundings?
The most obvious thing to consider is the Sun. If working unprotected and exposed to the Sun’s rays one of the biggest risks is heat exhaustion and sunburn which can turn into heatstroke – a medical emergency.
What are the signs of heat exhaustion?
Machine operators should look out for the signs of heat exhaustion and take action. The symptoms of heat exhaustion include a headache, dizziness and confusion, loss of appetite and feeling sick, excessive sweating and clammy skin, a fast pulse, hight temperature and feeling very thirsty.
If you’re working at height on an access platform these symptoms can, of course, have a detrimental effect on your balance, ability to concentrate and your judgement, adding additional risk.
If any workers experience symptoms of heat exhaustion then they should immediately move to a cooler place, lie down and raise their feet slightly. Offer them plenty of water or sports drinks and cool their skin with water or a fan.
More dangers of working at height in the sun.
As well as heat exhaustion, exposure to the sun can, of course, cause sunburn and dehydration. Once you have elevated your access platform to the required height you may feel it is a hassle to stop work and lower it if you have forgotten to apply sunscreen or take a drink up with you. Make it a rule not to forget and keep these things handy in a safe place on the platform – and take extra breaks too in a shady spot, even if you feel you do not need them.
Practical clothing for working at height in hot weather
Choose suitable head gear that will both protect you from head and shield your eyes from bright reflections which could cause you to lose balance. Avoid sunburn by wearing pale coloured long sleeved shirts and trousers – but do not be tempted to remove PPE such as helmets and high vis clothing – safety procedures must be followed at all times.