Construction workers are known as a tough group, with physical stamina and quick reaction times practically part of the job description.
But as a recent Mesa construction accident off Loop 202 revealed, these workers aren’t invincible. They face a host of dangers at every turn. Particularly in the summer, they are coping not only with careless drivers and heavy equipment, but also sweltering heat.
Tragically in the Loop 202 incident, one worker lost his life and another was seriously injured. According to local news reports, the workers were part of a team that is working to complete a $72 million project that will be the first segment of the Gateway Freeway, which is going to link Loop 202 to a new freeway, the Arizona 24.
In the course of their duties, four workers were handling a metal and wood structure called “cribbing.” It’s essentially a box crib that is used to temporarily support heavy objects during construction or relocation. In the course of crews handling this structure, it collapsed.
The incident occurred around 6 a.m. Two workers were able to escape injury, but one was flown by helicopter in critical condition to a nearby hospital. Another, a 43-year-old man from Peoria, was killed.
While the incident is still under investigation, we do know that stability of cribbing can be affected by a number of factors, including the kind of material used, the number of contact points between the supported surface and the crib and the width of the crib versus its height. An off measurement regarding any one of these areas could result in a collapse.
The investigation is being handled by the Arizona division of Occupational Safety and Health.
Meanwhile, the Arizona Department of Transportation is warning roadside workers to use ample caution, with a near record heat wave expected to blanket the region in the coming weeks.
The National Weather Service has issued an excessive heat warning. Highway construction crews are considered to be among those at the highest risk, with temperatures on concrete or asphalt generally 15 to 20 degrees higher than the air temperature.
This makes for dangerous conditions for workers. Those employed by the state are warned about summer heat exposure and how to monitor their own health and that of their co-workers while working outdoors in these conditions. They are taught what to look for in terms of heat injury and of the importance of taking frequent rest breaks in the shade, consuming enough fluids and learning first aide for heat injuries.
Private construction employers need to be responsible for teaching their workers the same.
Other strategies that companies can use to mitigate the risk of heat injury:
Having projects start early in the morning to avoid having crews laboring in the height of the afternoon heat;
Switching from daytime paving to nighttime paving in the summer or during anytime when the temperature spikes over 100 degrees Fahrenheit;
Employees who are not used to working in hot environments should have a week to 10 days to acclimate to the temperatures, during which time they are given extra opportunities to drink and rest;
Have workers use the buddy system so that they can look out for one another with regard to signs of heat illnesses.
Mesa construction accident off Loop 2020 kills worker, June 19, 2013, By Miguel Otarola, Arizona Republic