Eight years ago I conducted a safety orientation with about 20 new workers at a site. I went over all the required topics and put some emphasis on heat-related illnesses using OSHA’s Quick Card on Heat Stress as a guide. When we were done, I collected the sign-in sheet and issued hard hat stickers and sent the workers on their way.
I went about my routine, conducting several walk-thru’s of the site that, at the time, was a 90-foot deep excavation with scaffold stair towers as the only access. Every walk of the site involved going down to the excavation and taking the LONG climb back up to the street to the site trailer where I’d find some sanctuary in the air conditioning. No sooner would I sit down than I would be summoned back to the field to address some safety-related concern.
By mid-morning I had a slight leg cramp, and knowing this was a sign of possible dehydration, I filled up on water, and kept a small bottle with me in the field. It had been a very busy morning and by lunch I was feeling a bit tired, so I got some rest as I enjoyed a communal lunch with the team, eating a bit more than I should have.
By early afternoon, I briefly felt a bit nauseous, and thought it was something I ate. A couple hours later, I had a headache and took some Advil from a nearby first-aid cabinet. It was now the end of the day and the outside temp was holding steady in the mid-90’s. I was doing some safety related paperwork and catching up on emails when the Project Executive walked into the trailer. He was doing a late-day walk of the site and I accompanied him – one last excursion down nine stories-worth of stairs, and back up. Then back to the trailer. At this point I was utterly exhausted; I put my laptop into my bag so I could finish the paperwork work at home.
I left the site and started the 2 block walk to the bus stop and got half-way there when out of nowhere I became lightheaded and dizzy, nearly fainting. Fortunately there was a park bench nearby and I was able to get to it. I drank some bottled water that I had in my bag, and tried to relax. As I sat there, all I could think, much to my embarrassment, was, how could I (the “Safety Guy”) have overlooked all the signs of heat-related illness that occurred to me during the day? I started the day by reviewing symptoms of heat stress and precautionary measures, and I ended the day nearly collapsing in a city park.
I guess the answer is, I’m human. I was too preoccupied with addressing daily issues at the project that I ignored all the indicators of heat-related illness—and take it from me, it’s an illness. As with any illness, the effects linger for a while. I finally made to the bus stop, got home where I promptly went to bed without having dinner, slept nearly 12 hours, and returned to work. I restricted myself to administrative duties due to the fatigue I still felt.
I urge everyone to review OSHA’s current Quick Card, “Protecting Workers from Heat Stress”, particularly if you plan on spending time at a project during the hot summer months. Remember to be alert for signs of heat stress in yourself and those around you.
Be safe – Bill “the Safety Guy” Flaherty