I-59/20 construction workers try to stay cool in Alabama heat

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — As hot temperatures continue across central Alabama, employers are taking precautions to make sure employees who work outside are safe.

CBS 42 caught up with a crew from Dunn Construction working on the Interstate 59/20 bridge construction.

“Some of the jobs that we have you just can’t avoid the direct heat and we combat that by trying to start earlier in the morning and stopping at a reasonable time in the afternoon,” said Keith Brown, a superintendent for Dunn.

Workers get started as early as 6 a.m. to avoid the hottest parts of the day.

Dunn watches over employees to make sure crews aren’t doing too much. On Tuesday, workers were spreading asphalt. After a temperature reading from Dunn, the mixture was more than 280 degrees Fahreheit.

There are several ways workers have been trying to keep cool. Crews with Dunn are given cold, wet towels to put around their neck. Coolers full of ice and water are also kept nearby. Air-conditioned trucks are kept nearby for breaks.

Dunn said there are also packets of an electrolyte solution to help workers stay hydrated. Being under the shade of the bridges in the site can also provide some relief for the workers.

“We do encourage if we do have a break in production, that they get in the trucks or at least get in the shade to rejuvenate themselves,” Brown said.

While Brown said most of his team is acclimated to the hot weather, he doesn’t take any chances.

Even though the sun can be the enemy in the summer months, bad weather can delay the project. With work left to be done, crews are making sure to stay focused and safe.

“We do have some deadlines that we’re trying to beat and we have to take advantage of every day that we have sunshine,” Brown said.

While Dunn Construction takes steps to keep employees safe, the Department of Labor told CBS 42 it has received complaints about conditions at other companies across the region.

“OSHA Region 4 has been experiencing a lot of illnesses and fatalities in our region and basically it’s because of the hot working conditions. Some of the industries that are primarily affected are construction, landscaping, and agriculture of course because they are outside all the time,” said Ramona Morris, director of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Birmingham area office.

Morris said employers are required to make sure the environment is suitable for employees based on the nature of the work.

Employees are encouraged to bring unsafe conditions to the attention of supervisors. If problems are ignored or persist, a person can file a complaint with OSHA.

“Basically employees can feel safe to report any type of unsafe condition, the employer cannot retaliate against them from doing so,” Morris said.

Morris told CBS 42 no heat-related deaths in the workplace have been recently reported in the Birmingham area, although she said there have been workers who have been hospitalized.

Within 24 hours, employers are required to notify OSHA if an employee suffers a heat-related illness while on the job. OSHA must be notified of a death within eight hours.

“We’ve received complaints from employees as well as employer reported type of referrals where an employer has an employee that’s hospitalized and they report it directly to OSHA so that we can do the investigation,” Morris said.

OSHA has developed an app to serve as a guide for employers during extreme temperatures. For more information, click here.

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