ORLANDO, Fla. – Construction companies and outdoor workers across the Southeast and Southwest have been on the front lines of the heat wave this summer, and companies are taking extra steps to prevent heat-related illness and get the job done on time.
For DPR Construction, operating in Florida and across the Southeast, protecting their workers from heat has always been part of the business. This year, the messaging to employees about signs of heat exhaustion and illness started early as heat indices across job sites in Florida reached into the triple digits by mid-June and have shown little sign of wavering.
"One of the things that we do at DPR is in the springtime, we start talking about it. You have to get the message out before the actual summer temperatures are here. Even in some of the cooler days in the springtime," DPR Superintendent Lance Wafler said.
DPR will place water stations throughout project sites and provide workers with shaded break areas and electrolyte pops to help manage the heat. Additionally, DPR has a paramedic ready to respond to any health concerns. Wafler said they are a phone call away or onsite.
Doctors are reporting the deadly U.S. heat wave is causing an increase in heat stroke and heat exhaustion patients across the country. Outdoor workers who know how to manage hot temperatures are now coming into urgent care centers and hospitals when they are usually the least likely to need treatment, according to doctors FOX Weather interviewed.
Wafler said it comes back to ensuring employees know the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
"So they can say, 'Hey, I'm not feeling well. I'm feeling lightheaded.' The symptoms that are well documented with heat illness," Wafler said. "Then we can bring them to see the onsite paramedic and say, 'OK yeah, I'm seeing that too. Why don't you here hang out their conditioning? Here's an electrolyte pop.' Then they can make the determination of we need to go further from a medical standpoint."
Project managers face other challenges beyond keeping their workers safe.
Crews can begin work before the sun is up to help avoid peak temperatures.
In north Texas, crews working on the Methodist Celina Medical Center began pouring concrete at 1 a.m. to avoid heat interfering with the concrete setting. Another crew starts work at 4 a.m., reports FOX 4 Dallas-Fort Worth.
Texas was an early victim of the historic heat wave, with repeated Excessive Heat Warnings since mid-June in sweltering temperatures.
Wafler said pouring concrete overnight and finishing concrete in daylight is an industry standard because of how concrete sets.
"It's a chemical reaction, and it generates heat. So when the ambient temperature in the air is hotter, that process will react faster, and there are times when we won't be able to perform our work if it's reacting too fast," Wafler said. "That's why we try to do it earlier in the morning when it's cooler, and then there's things you can do from a mix design standpoint to slow down that reaction."
There are additional challenges with pre-dawn work, including making sure there is enough lighting and managing different start times for other contractors.
Project sites in the heat wave and Southeast are some of the most weather-dependent work sites. A late evening shift in Florida isn't an option because of afternoon and evening thunderstorms.
Wafler said early shifts aren't a new concept in construction, but now it's becoming "more of a question of when are we going to do it versus if we're going to do it."