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ADOT workers prep for heat wave by getting water, rest and shade

Highway crews rely on training and experience to deal with extreme heat
June 27, 2013

PHOENIX — With near record heat expected to blanket the Valley and several regions across the state this weekend, the Arizona Department of Transportation and its workers are thinking safety first to survive the heat wave.

With the National Weather Service issuing an excessive heat warning, ADOT’s highway crews are taking extra precautions. Soaring temperatures are potentially dangerous for maintenance and construction workers. Typically, temperatures on asphalt or concrete are 15-20 degrees higher than the air temperature.

ADOT trains its employees to know that exposure to summer heat can be life threatening if not treated properly. Highway workers are taught to monitor themselves and their co-workers for signs of heat-related incidents and to use common sense when working out in the hot sun.

Heat safety training is a critical task for ADOT’s Health and Safety Office. Workers who are exposed to high temperatures are required to complete a heat stress training class. They learn to know the signs and symptoms of heat injury, and to observe proper work practices. That includes drinking enough fluids, taking adequate rest breaks and knowing first aid procedures for treating heat illnesses. In addition, all ADOT offices involved in highway work across the state conduct their own “Safety Stand Down Days” to review heat and other safety issues.

“It’s paramount that our workers take every precaution to prevent a heat-related illness,” ADOT Administration Services Division Assistant Director Sonya Herrera. “ADOT does a good job of preventing heat illnesses through a variety of ways, including keeping workers hydrated, starting the work day earlier to avoid some of the extreme temperatures, and having workers that are trained and knowledgeable to recognize heat stress symptoms early.”

According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the main federal agency charged with the enforcement of safety and health legislation, each year thousands of outdoor workers experience serious heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion. If they are lucky, someone recognizes the symptoms fast enough to move them out of the heat, give them water and help cool them down. If not, heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke.

In addition to training, ADOT uses various strategies to mitigate the effects of the heat:

  • Projects are usually started earlier in the day before the hottest hours in the afternoon.
  • Workers use a “buddy system,” where they are responsible for observing fellow co-workers for early signs and symptoms of heat illnesses.
  • Summer standards include switching some paving to nighttime shifts once daytime temperatures reach 100.
  • Retrofitting highways with one-inch overlays of temperature-sensitive rubberized asphalt is typically avoided during the hottest months of the year.
  • Employees who have not been working in hot environments are recommended to have at least a 7- to 10-day acclimatization period during which they need to take extra time to rest and replenish liquids.
  • ADOT has a large supply of safety products for distribution to employees. The Health and Safety Office provides generous amounts of sunscreen to employees who work outside. Additionally, the department has access to other sun protection gear, including hard hat sun shades and long-sleeved safety shirts.

To learn more about OSHA’s “Water-Rest-Shade” public awareness campaign and the hazards of working outdoors in hot weather.

For more information about ADOT projects and programs across Arizona see the agency's latest blog posts.