Spring is in the air, and summer is near – one of the busiest seasons for completing construction of all types. Drier weather lends itself to optimal conditions for road construction and excavation, as well as roofing and re-roofing scopes. Additionally, seasonal work for schools is common during summer months while students are on break, and larger sites aim to complete excavation work, as well.
While summer presents opportunities for efficient work, it also presents some additional challenges for quality of certain products and safety risks to onsite workers. Today, we explore the top 6 challenges of summer construction work.
1. Dust Control and Airborne Particles
While considerations for dust control are a critical component of operating construction sites, the heat of summer increases those concerns. Dry conditions can create airborne dust via heavy equipment and utility vehicles used for grading.
OSHA has a series of resources available related to dust control and Respirable Crystalline Silica. In recent years, significant attention has been given to protecting workers from silica and one of the main methods of controlling exposure is to utilize water. When conditions are excessively hot and dry, it requires more water to maintain the same amount of control.
In addition to silica concerns, some geographical locations like Maricopa County, Arizona have additional regulations related to keeping dust from blowing onto neighboring properties. In these areas, heavy use of water trucks to maintain a solid ‘crust’ on any exposed earth is a requirement for construction sites. Sites found to be lacking proper control of dust can be subject to fines.
Requirements for dust control vary from state to state and contractors must be educated on the specifics of each jurisdiction before beginning work.
2. Timing of Planting Materials
Another challenge related to the heat of summer is landscaping and the timing for planting vegetation. Most jurisdictions have specific requirements for plantings, particularly here in the Pacific Northwest. The City of Portland has a page dedicated to landscaping and screening with a variety of resources for landowners and designers to consider.
Often, jurisdictions will not finalize certificates of occupancy until landscaping is completed on the site. However, landscape companies won’t always warranty plantings if they’re done mid-summer. Frequently, contractors may need to negotiate with the jurisdiction for temporary occupancy and follow-up to achieve final occupancy once all plantings are completed, often in the Fall when temperatures and rainfall will better support root growth.
Additionally, some jurisdictions will verify that plantings must thrive for a certain period of time following the completion of construction. If plants fail to thrive, they must be replaced.
A competent contractor will help manage the risk of plant failure through strategic scheduling of the site plantings. While some landscaping will need to be installed during the summer months to assist with dust and erosion control, other items may be able to wait until better weather conditions will support the plantings.
3. Concrete Curing
As we have discussed in The Art and Science of Concrete, the placement of concrete is tricky business. It’s critical that concrete cure at a steady rate, but if it’s excessively warm and sunny, there’s a risk of the top of the slab curing faster than the concrete below it. We employ several strategies to mitigate this risk:
- Large pours are scheduled for the middle of the night when temperatures are lower and the sun has yet to rise.
- Summer blankets will be placed on top of the slab following the pour.
- Sprinklers may be utilized to keep the top of the slabs cool.
If the heat isn’t properly managed and the slabs cure at different rates, there is likely to be significant cracking over time.
4. Combustible Materials, Fire and Smoke Danger
The summer and fall of 2020 in the Pacific Northwest brought new attention to the dangers of wildfire smoke on workers. The air quality at times was so poor that jobsites had to temporarily close for several days. We anticipate that OSHA will be issuing new guidelines for air quality considerations for construction sites in the coming year.
In addition to wildfires, dry conditions of summer and extreme heat can easily cause grass fires. Some tactics we take to avoid accidental onsite fires include:
- Avoiding storage of materials in grassy areas.
- Concentrating crew parking in non-vegetated areas.
- Storing heat sensitive materials in shaded or air-conditioned spaces.
- Create designated smoking areas with receptacles for disposal.
- Ensure all mechanized equipment is inspected before use.
In addition, crews must be alert for fire risks, and have fire extinguishers and water easily accessible.
5. Increased Employee Distractions
Summer time is enjoyable for many people because of longer days, optimal weather and kids home from school. This leads to an increase in employee distractions during work hours.
Workers may stay up later, consume more alcohol during off-hours, or desire to condense their breaks in order to leave the site sooner. All of these factors can contribute to exhaustion and, in turn, less safe work practices by individuals. It’s critical that supervisors keep an eye on individuals at all times, and during summer months, pay particular attention to any impairments that may exist. Utilizing morning huddles and stretching routines to help assess employee health is one key moment in time to complete these evaluations.
For instance, many morning stretch routines include standing on one leg. If an employee can’t complete that action, it may be a sign of impairment.
Additionally, supervisors must enforce adequate break periods and ensure workers utilize appropriate break times. Proper rest is imperative for workers to maintain clear thinking and avoid fatigue. Compromising on these guidelines can lead to accidents and/or mistakes in the field.
6. Increased Safety Concerns – Heat Risks and Injuries
There are several injury risks during the summer months when temperatures are high and the sun is bright. These include things like burns from materials stored in the sun, sun burns to the skin, or bee stings from surprise nests on stored materials or underground.
Bees, hornets or yellowjackets may nest in stored lumber, pallets, in roof eaves, etc. Jobsites are prepared with treatment options for minor stings and any affected individuals must be supervised to watch for allergic reactions before being released back to work. Additionally, those with known bee allergies are encouraged to carry their epi-pens while onsite and inform others so that they may be aware and quick to respond in the event that individual is stung.
Workers are encouraged to wear gloves while handling any items that may be exposed to direct sunlight. Metal objects are particularly susceptible to sunlight and may burn unsuspecting workers when touched.
Finally, one the largest health concerns during summer is from heat exposure. OSHA has a variety of resources about the heat index and how to identify risk related to high temperatures. They also provide recommended protective measures depending on the heat index to help avoid significant injury due to heat related illnesses.
Our sites are always prepared with water stations, shade stations, air-conditioned job trailers and enforcement of rest periods to help prevent heat related illnesses from occurring. Additionally, we encourage workers to drink water and avoid caffeinated beverages or energy drink consumption.
It’s critical that care is taken during warm work hours to avoid injury to workers and also to deliver a quality construction product. With proper planning, diligence and supervision, these summer construction challenges can be overcome. If you’re thinking of embarking on a new construction project, please reach out to us to find out more about how we can help you.