Too Hot to Handle

Heat waves are slowing construction around the world, and it will only get worse

A construction worker welding. Increased temperatures around the are expected to make construction conditions more stressful. (Christopher Burns/Unsplash)

The effects of climate change are felt all over the world and are causing a host of negative consequences. Extreme heat events are happening more frequently and for longer periods of time. For the construction industry, a trade sensitive to the weather because of the working conditions, it becomes ever more likely that complications will arise.

This June was the world’s hottest on record, according to the National Weather Service. The Independent reported that experts say this July is likely to have been the hottest month ever recorded on Earth. Extreme heat has covered much of the U.S. with temperatures approaching and exceeding triple digits. In Europe, a massive heatwave marked the summer and now Greenland, within recent days, has faced a tremendous ice melt.

During these times, construction companies must pay closer attention to the health of their employees on the job. Providing more break time, shade, and water will help alleviate workers during the daytime and hours may shift to night-time when the temperature is coolest.

There’s a lot of money bound to a construction site. Leased equipment, contractual penalties, and cost of labor are expected on the job, but unexpected weather results in unpleasant, expensive surprises, and it is becoming increasingly difficult for construction planners to rely on seasonal forecasts.

“The construction industry loses billions of dollars on delays and failures caused by bad weather. Buildings are damaged during storms; sites turn into seas of mud; freezing temperatures make it impossible to pour concrete,” said Climate.gov in 2017 when reporting on climate and construction.



The dangerous heat may become a factor in increasing incidents of heat-related illnesses, such as heatstroke. A study published by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health reports that 36.8 percent of heat-related deaths nationwide occurred within the construction industry,

“Heat is something we deal with every year,” said DPR Construction Southeast Regional Safety Manager Steve Duff. At DPR, more breaks, more water, and educational talks on heat illnesses are provided to employees.

Duff credits lifestyle factors over climate change as the reason for escalating heat-related incidents. He said the popularity of energy drinks is a culprit, causing dehydration. Also, new employees to the industry after the Great Recession who came from other industries had likely “not been outdoors frequently.”

Billy Grayson (executive director of the Center for Sustainability and Economics Performance at the Urban Land Institute, an organization providing leadership in responsible land use) faults construction materials. “Extreme heat can delay construction projects due to the need for specific building materials to cool or cure,” Grayson said. “If these products can’t solidify at the right timing for the project, it can cause significant delays.”

Ryan Ware, cofounder of Vantis, a company that specializes in designing custom commercial facility interiors that are constructed off-site, says this could lead to more adoption of prefabricated construction. “It’s taking the risk out of the heat wave, because you’re putting the [staff] into a factory or a controlled environment,” Vantis said. Regardless, as temperatures continue to rise, the construction industry will have to adapt accordingly.

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