June is finally here, bringing with it summer weather (finally). For some in the trades, that means it’s also National Safety Month. It’s a bit different for us, because every month is safety month at Valley Corporation. That said, each season brings its own set of challenges when you’re a general contractor serving Omaha, and it’s easier to meet them when everyone works toward a common goal.
Understand Summer Dangers
Some occupational hazards, like high winds, follow us throughout the year. In other cases, the “usual” hazards, like slips and falls, come with different underlying causes. There are other things you don’t give a second thought in the winter, like sunburn, heatstroke, heavier-than-normal rains, and the occasional tornado warning.
Maintaining a Safe Job Site
Many safety fundamentals remain the same no matter what Mother Nature has in store. But extreme heat, like extreme cold, can dull senses and judgment. It’s human nature to start to tire after a long day, and to want to speed up in order to get back to our air-conditioned homes. None of us can afford those lapses, so there are a few particular things we watch out for, and you should too.
Eat Well and Hydrate
Ever notice that you’ve got a peaceful and sleepy feeling after a big meal? That’s fine when bedtime’s a few hours away, but when you’re still a few hours from quitting time, a lighter meal helps you stay alert better. We also suggest avoiding foods that spoil easily in high heat. We’re not saying everyone should pack peanut butter and jelly, but we’d definitely leave the coleslaw and chicken salad home in the fridge.
What you drink matters too. Our bodies — including our brains — are mostly water, and if we’re dehydrated, nothing’s working as it should. Caffeine can dehydrate you faster, and sugar can make your energy levels yo-yo throughout the day, so their use should be limited. If you’re sweating, you’re also losing electrolytes, so it’s a good idea to supplement water with Gatorade or something else with added minerals.
Watch the Forecast and Plan Accordingly
Weather is always a wild card when you work outdoors, but summer weather can change on a dime. Plan around long-term forecasts as well as you can, scheduling the heaviest work for the coolest parts of the day (bring reflective gear and additional lighting as needed). And make sure your team knows what to do if the weather turns bad.
Remember Your PPE
We’ll let you insert your own euphemism for the heat here (we’re trying to keep it family-friendly). Now that that’s done, yes, we know you’re sweating buckets this time of year. But that doesn’t mean you can, or should, ditch your PPE. You have a safety plan and those best practices for a reason. Schedule more breaks if you need them, but don’t go out unprotected.
On a related note, strong sunlight means covering up. Long pants and sunscreen are both musts. Sunburn is bad enough; skin cancer, if it develops, can be tragic. Stick to clothing that’s light colored so it doesn’t absorb heat. Make sure it’s breathable or has moisture-wicking properties. And make sure it doesn’t fit too loosely, since you don’t want it catching in machinery or tools.
Follow Up With Your Crew
If you’re like us, you care about your people and you’ve trained them to stay safe. But all of us, from your most experienced site foreman to the guy who just started last week, are only human. We forget things. We lose focus, or we get so focused on a single task that we miss other things going on around us. A vital part of safety training is making sure your crew has each other’s backs, and that whoever’s in charge on site is ready to do the same. The job will get done — it always does — but small things like enforcing safety rules and scheduling proper breaks protect your people as much as your bottom line.
Valley Corporation provides many different services to Douglas County and beyond, including utilities, grading, and sheet piling. As varied as the jobs and the clientele have been over our decades in business, our commitment to safety — our team’s, and yours — is the common thread that ties everything together.