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By John Biggs
December 18, 2017
Construction is dangerous work no matter the time of year, but elemental hazards like extreme heat or cold dramatically increase the possibility for dangerous or even lethal conditions. According to OSHA, dozens of workers die each year and thousands become ill while working in high heat or humidity environments, and construction workers are especially susceptible. In fact, OSHA says more than 40% of heat-related worker deaths occur every year in the construction industry.
In the Gulf state of Qatar, extreme desert heat is a real safety concern for the thousands of construction workers building venues for the 2022 World Cup, and local researchers are turning to technology to protect workers facing temperatures up to 122 degrees Fahrenheit.
Responding to the problem, the researchers came up with a hard hat they say can reduce skin temperature by up to 50 degrees Fahrenheit. The helmets are equipped with a small solar panel which powers a fan that blows air over a special heat-absorbing insert placed within the helmet’s lining. Each insert can provide cooler temperatures for workers for about 4 hours before needing to be replaced.
Saud Abdul-Aziz Abdul-Ghani, a professor of engineering at Qatar University who led the research team that developed the helmet, touted the benefits in an interview with CNN.
“By reducing the temperature of the head and face, the rest of the body will naturally follow and ensure that workers have a constant flow of cooler air to refresh them throughout their day,” he said.
Thousands of miles away, the sub-tropical climate of Hong Kong presents very real humidity hazards for its construction workers, and a special summer work uniform developed by PolyU aims to protect workers from the extreme conditions.
The uniform, consisting of a T-shirt and trousers, was designed using moisture-wicking fabrics and nano-materials. When worn, the uniform facilitates moisture transfer away from the body and to the garment surface, boosting sweat evaporation, lowering heat stress and improving fabric breathability.
In testing, the researchers found the uniforms reduced body heat storage by nearly 30% over traditional work clothing, lowering workers core temperature and heart rate. Eighty-five percent of workers tested gave the new uniforms the thumbs up, saying they were cooler and more comfortable than what they’d usually wear on the job.
Bitter temperatures and strong winter winds also create potentially hazardous conditions for outdoor workers, and big-name companies like Milwaukee and DeWalt have introduced lithium-ion battery powered heated clothing that promise to keep workers toasty when temperatures drop.
The Milwaukee M12 Heated Gear line uses carbon fiber heating elements, and the heated jackets offered by DeWalt use a USB power source to transfer power from the battery to the jacket’s heating elements, and also enables wearers to charge up to two USB-compatible electronic devices. Both provide adjustable temperature control, providing cold-weather workers with much-needed warmth without adding bulk or limiting their movement.
Worker safety is a top concern for any construction company, and protecting them from the elements is every bit as important as protecting them from falls or other common jobsite injuries. Technological advances in materials, solar power and heating elements are taking some of the bite out of the winter weather and easing the oppressive heat or humidity outdoor workers face in often unavoidable extreme temperatures.
If you liked this article, here are a few eBooks you may enjoy:
How Construction Technology is Saving Time, Money, and Jobs
Keeping Your Technology Up to Date
Technology Chargeback in the Construction Industry
How to Get a Handle on Heat Risks
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