Historic Heat is Threatening the Construction Industry and Its Workers

Historic heat is plaguing construction crews nationwide. Companies need to prioritize worker safety now before it gets hotter.
By Tom Miller
September 21, 2023

Construction crews continued to work in sizzling, dangerous conditions as the hottest summer on record swept across the country—and it is anticipated to be even warmer in 2024. Even though cooler weather is expected to loom for the remainder of 2023, political and business leaders need to help their people adapt to this new, inevitable reality. The Department of Labor recently issued a historical first: a federal Hazard Alert for Heat requested by President Biden. It’s clear that our infrastructure, legislation and workplaces need reforms that keep all workers safe in these extreme heat conditions.

As temperatures continue to scorch the U.S., employers in outdoor industries such as construction have an obligation to keep their crews safe from harm. Companies need to educate construction workers on ways to identify and address heat-induced symptoms, but it doesn’t stop there. Employers must go a step further and equip employees with the tools needed to report heat-induced illness—and all other workplace safety concerns—before they become serious dangers.

High Heat. High Statistics.

Up to 2,000 workers die from heat exposure annually. Construction workers who spend their days outside under the blazing sunshine, often in layers of clothing, are at a heightened risk of heat-related illnesses, injuries or worse. Between 1992 and 2016, 285 construction workers died from heat-related causes, accounting for over a third of all U.S. occupational deaths from heat exposure.

Triple-digit temperatures have hit construction crews especially hard in Sun Belt states like Texas, causing illness and even death. To make matters worse, Texas construction workers lost their right to water breaks earlier this summer, despite the record-breaking heat. These conditions are unsafe and unsustainable.

All employers have a duty to provide their workers the proper tools to report incidents and unsafe conditions and cultivate a workplace where safety is valued—but this duty of care is more urgent in the construction industry today.

Rules. Regulations. Reporting.

Currently, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires employers to provide safe workspaces under its general duty clause, but there are no specific rules around extreme heat. While the administration is beginning to draft a workplace heat standard, there is no telling how long this process may take. In the meantime, several states have instituted their own heat protection laws, but many extremely hot states such as Florida still do not have any laws in place to protect their outdoor workers. Although the wheels of the legislative process are slow to turn, employers must not wait for the slow wheels of the legislative process to catch up to reality. The construction industry must take action today.

In order for reporting tools to be effective, however, every employee must feel free to report warning signs. Many construction workers push themselves through potentially unsafe conditions on extremely hot days to secure overtime hours or out of fear that they will suffer retaliation if they ask for special accommodations. If crew members are worried about negative repercussions that could threaten their livelihood, then even the best reporting tools will not be enough to keep workers safe. Anonymity is essential to reporting workplace safety violations. Organizations must embrace secure reporting technologies to ensure they can receive vital feedback to inform their policies.

The heat isn’t going away. As triple-digit temperatures become more common, construction companies must make their workers’ safety their top priority. Adopting safe and anonymous reporting tools is a crucial step towards ensuring workplace safety, especially for outdoor workers. Both employees and employers benefit from proactive risk-management technology that allows companies to quickly and impartially address employee concerns and improve current protocol. Construction workers are essential to so many other industries, but most importantly, they deserve to safely return home after each shift. Companies must start making changes today to protect them.

by Tom Miller
Tom Miller - Found, CEO, ClearForce

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