Humidity in Florida can be stifling. With an average relative humidity of 74.5 percent (#2 in the United States) and an average dew point of 62.7°F (#2 in the United States), only Alaska and Hawaii outrank Florida in these respective categories. From a scientific perspective, these rankings are factually sound; however, when it comes to daily conditions on the project site, Florida is the uncrowned king of humidity. Don’t believe us? Just ask your workers. They deal with high-humidity conditions on a daily basis working in the Sunshine State.
In this article, the St. Petersburg construction attorneys at Cotney Construction Law will discuss the challenges contractors face when working in humid climates. Not all climates are created equally, and the success of your projects and health of your workforce will vary based on the type of climate the project is being developed in.
Generally, high-humidity climates are tolerable as long as they aren’t overly hot. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case in Florida, where workers are forced to work through both high temperatures and suffocating humidity.
This is the very reason why people start to sweat as soon as they cross the threshold from their air-conditioned living spaces to the world outside. This combination of heat and humidity can lead to a myriad of heat-related illnesses, including:
- Heat Cramps: Humidity increases the rate of perspiration. As body fluid and salts are exhausted, it can lead to muscle spasms and cramping.
- Heat Rash: When sweat gets trapped beneath a worker’s clothes and fails to evaporate, it can block the sweat glands. The accumulation of sweat and heat can cause the skin to become inflamed in these areas.
- Heat Exhaustion: Similar to heat cramps, heat exhaustion can also occur when body fluids become depleted. The symptoms of heat exhaustion include headaches, nausea, dizziness, lightheadedness, and fatigue. Be warned, any employee suffering from heat exhaustion could be at risk of heat stroke, too.
- Heat Stroke: Did you know that there are over 100 heat-related hospitalizations per month in Pinellas County and Hillsborough County during the summer months? Those who are tasked with working eight-hour shifts in these conditions have an increased chance of heat stroke. Heat stroke occurs when the body’s temperature spikes at such a rapid rate that it is unable to cool itself down. Skin becomes hot, then dry, followed by difficulty breathing, severe headaches and lightheadedness, nausea, muscle weakness, and more.
According to Industrial Safety & Hygiene News (ISHN), “Although they compose only six percent of the total U.S. workforce, construction workers accounted for 36 percent of all occupational heat-related deaths from 1992 to 2016.” This staggering statistic can’t be taken lightly. Heat-related illnesses on Florida project sites are inevitable, so it’s up to contractors to implement the necessary controls and safeguards to keep their workers healthy and happy; otherwise, you could find yourself contacting a St. Petersburg construction law lawyer for assistance dealing with a workers’ compensation claim.
Are Your Workers at Risk?
If your workforce is taking on projects in the Sunshine State, there’s always a risk of heat-related illness. These risks become even more apparent when humidity is on the uptick. As you train your workers on the dangers of heat and humidity, it’s important to convey the importance of self-management. In other words, your workers should be trained to identify symptoms of heat-related illnesses so they can actively manage them on the project site. Your workers’ susceptibility to these types of illnesses is largely predicated on factors like their age, activity level, body mass index (BMI), and level of hydration.
Generally, older workers have a higher risk of heat-related illness. This is because older adults can’t dissipate heat as effectively. Furthermore, older adults sweat less, which makes it more difficult for them to cool down. Highly active workers must also be cautious. The ability to work at a high level is important in the construction industry; however, if it results in a heat-related illness, this increased productivity will be for naught. Body heat is a direct function of activity level, which means instructing your workers on the best way to work efficiently without falling prey to overexertion can help you prevent heat-related illness or injury on the project site. Of course, if a worker has succumbed to injury or illness on the project site, you should report the incident to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and consult one of our Clearwater construction lawyers for information on what to do next.
High BMI can also put a worker at risk. Extra body fat acts as an insulator, trapping heat and refusing to let it escape. Unlike older workers who can’t produce enough sweat, obese workers sweat too much, causing them to dehydrate more quickly. Speaking of dehydration, it’s another common risk for heat-related illness. Workers should drink water regularly to stay hydrated both before, during, and after work.
The challenges you face as a contractor working in humid climates go beyond your workers’ health and safety. The hotter and more humid the climate, the harder it will be to achieve peak productivity, especially when taking on multiple projects at the same time. You will have to facilitate more rest and water breaks, increase the amount of shade on the project site, ensure that first aid kits are stocked up and accessible, and train your workers on the challenges of working in humid climates. Needless to say, all of these considerations will take away from the time your workers spend working, but it’s more important to keep your workers happy, healthy, and functional than to push them past their limits. It’s the cost of doing business in Florida — one you’ll have to swallow if you want to be successful.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.