Tis the season! Email
Written by Troy Sibelius   
Tuesday, July 25, 2023 12:00 AM

Colorado Green Now

Tis the season! No… not for mistletoe and holly, but sunburns and dehydration!  

By Troy Sibelius 

In hot weather, our body’s natural cooling systems are not enough. Heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke pose a real threat to outdoor workers. Heat stress has a significant negative impact on employee production and attendance that can cause project schedules and budgets go into disarray as companies scurry to complete the work. Let’s take a closer look what is really going on. 

Reality and myth 

You know the controls for working in the heat: provide plenty of water, sunscreen, sunglasses, allow regular breaks, etc. Unfortunately, a persistent myth is that production is hampered by adding more controls. Not only does this myth present a disregard for safety, but it’s also just plain wrong! In addition to preventing heat illness, proper controls can also prevent mental/physical fatigue and employee runoff. The myth assumes on-site downtime and precautions decrease employee output has a negative impact on your budget 

Let’s examine the effects heat has on productivity. Extensive research on human performance reveals a recurring statistic; for each degree above 80o F (roughly) productivity decreases anywhere from 2%-3%. This means on a 100o F summer day, without controls in place, production can be reduced by up to 50%. Under these conditions employees move slower, regularly forget equipment and materials, and produce lower quality work, possibly requiring rework. Studies also indicate that people working in these conditions on a regular basis (e.g., landscaper workers) showed tendencies toward increased absenteeism, conflicts, safety and HR complaints, and attrition. 

These issues have not been resolved by demanding that workers to “toughen up” or to “handle the heat or stay out of the kitchen.In the current labor market, employees are asking, “why should I prove I’m tough when the crew across the street has water, shade and regular breaks? Employees today are very aware of their value and other available job opportunities. Employers who make concessions to put controls in place simple to meet employees’ requests, trying to keep them happy, may still see them leave for an extra $0.25 per hour. Rather than making concessions, why not create an environment where people want to take pride in the quality of their work and have input into the conditions that allow them to perform well? 

Employee concessions or strategic decision? 

To address the topic of heat illness ask yourself and your employees, what could we correct that would make it easier to work in the heat? You might think, “that sounds like you’re making a concession,” and you would be correct if we stopped here. If we add the analysis of impact on the organization, instead of wasted time adding scheduled breaks to keep employees comfortable, we’re instead adding ‘concessions’ to reduce employee fatigue, attrition and negative impacts on production. Now you are making a strategic decision that managers can support because they see the direct impact. 

Here are few things you can do now to build a culture that honors employee value and promotes commitment to quality and production. 

  1. Create a list of project requirements when temperatures exceed 90o F. Select cost effective and high impact methods including shade tents, hardhat insert/ brims, wearing loose, light colored clothing and providing coolers stocked with ice, water, and electrolyte drinks. 

  1. Avoid overexertion during peak temperature hours. Work to implement more breaks and/or rotate workers when temperatures are high. If production is decreased due to heat, and adding more breaks improves the impact, you can have a net positive gain on production and increase employee morale. 

  1. Meet with employees to discuss what has been done and why and ask them for additional suggestions 

Now is the time to emphasize that employee culture and morale are valued assets, AND quality and production are expectations of the job. Everyone desires to show up, be treated respectfully, have contributions recognized, and go home injury and illness free. Under strong leadership, everyone can have shared goals, creating a successful company and culture where people want to show up AND take pride in their work.  

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