The Scoop on Summer Safety

Katherine Breeggemann

The sounds of childhood jingles and nursery rhymes are not what most people would expect to hear on a jobsite.  Nor the sight of an ice cream truck.  However, that is exactly what you will find if you visit one of General Superintendent Neal Ernest’s summer jobsites.

“At least once a month, we always do something for the whole project. That could be ice cream, watermelons or popsicles.  It keeps up worker morale and keeps the workers cool,” Neal explains.  Having worked with Balfour Beatty for twenty years, Neal has mastered the art of engaging his team in safe heat practices for the summer. Through the years, keeping his team cool and well hydrated has become a number one priority, a feat that can be difficult when working on projects in Texas or Florida during the height of summer. Nevertheless, he has always persisted.

From dedicated toolbox talks, to hourly breaks and readily available sports drinks, Neal does all he can to sprinkle summer safety practices across his jobsites.

“Most of what we’re doing is encouragement.  We encourage more water breaks, especially for those working in machine rooms or deep foundation where they don’t get the benefit of the breeze,” Neal explains. “Maintaining production means giving people more breaks.” 

Senior Vice President of National Safety and Operations, Steve Smithgall, has the same mentality. “The key is not only to encourage people to take more breaks, but also to provide them cool, shaded places for when they take them,” comments Steve.

In the past five years alone, the focus on summer safety at our jobsites has intensified. Workers are increasingly aware of the risks and warning signs and we have implemented a number of national campaigns and initiatives to help keep everyone safe. These strategies go beyond simple encouragement; they tackle the very real issue of personal accountability.

“A lot of people start their careers in the construction industry in summer, but they aren’t always prepared for dealing with heat stress,” Steve points out. Our latest Zero Harm hard hat stickers differentiate experienced and inexperienced workers. This goes a long way in helping us combat this issue. As Steve acknowledges: “It allows us to keep an eye on the new people and ensure that they’re making safe choices.” 

Safe choices include avoiding caffeinated beverages, like sodas or coffee, which actually dehydrate the body faster.  Since many jobsites start early in the morning in an attempt to beat the heat, both Neal and Steve advocate for less energy drinks and earlier bedtimes. Passing out on a jobsite from fatigue is just as dangerous as heat stress, and it’s the duty of both the team member and the supervisor to ensure such events don’t occur.

For Balfour Beatty, precautions against heat are a necessity for all teammates and visitors to our job sites. Any signs of heat stress, whether it’s in the form of heat cramps, dehydration, exhaustion or heat stroke, must be handled as a top priority. That means looking out for teammates, encouraging worker accountability, and even the occasional sweet treat.

“It’s about diligence. You just have to have a never-ending conversation,” declares Neal. A statement like that is just the cherry on top of a perfect strategy to be safe this summer.