We all know California heats up in the summer time, and these temperatures intensify for road workers. The heat rising from recently-poured, 300-degree asphalt mixture can make even an 80-degree day feel like it’s in the upper 90s or triple-digits for those standing on or near the asphalt. And, with the recommended clothing and other personal protective equipment, workers are at further risk of overheating without proper precautions.
Additionally, fresh (or hot) asphalt also releases fumes and vapors into the air from the different gas and chemical components of the mixture. Common symptoms of asphalt fume exposure include nausea, headaches, and mild-to-serious irritation to the skin, eyes, nose, throat, and lungs.
The combination of heat from the sun and heat from the asphalt can be a deadly combination. To work safely in high temperatures and with asphalt, PPE such as long sleeve shirts, long pants, thermal boots, and face protection are required, and they add to the body’s heat load as well.
Cal/OSHA’s heat illness standards have stricter requirements when temperatures rise above 95 degrees, but given the other asphalt related concerns, you might consider implementing this part of the regulation at much lower outdoor temperatures.
Without proper protection, road workers can easily breathe in the fumes from the asphalt mixture. When possible, workers should stand upwind of where the asphalt mixing and pouring takes place so the fumes and vapors move away from their breathing space.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) is necessary too, including:
- Goggles with indirect venting help protect the eyes from fumes and vapors that rise into the air.
- Thermally insulated gloves and boots help prevent asphalt burns and stop solvents from soaking into the skin.
- Long sleeve shirts and long pants help prevent skin burns and exposure to chemicals contained in hot asphalt.
- Respirators may be necessary in some circumstances. Check the asphalt safety data sheet for chemical composition and guidance. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has recommendations when asphalt fumes reach specified levels.
At your safety meeting
Train your employees on Cal/OSHA’s heat illness requirments, and demonstrate where the drinking water and shade spots are located.
Educate employees about the risks that come with exposure to asphalt fumes and vapors and strategize how to best minimize those risks.
Review and discuss the appropriate PPE. If your employees request respirators, train them on the type they need and how to use it, in accordance with your written Respirator Protection Program (required).
For road construction workers, it’s impossible to avoid the heat and fumes when pouring and spreading asphalt.
Regular cool-down breaks, drinking plenty of water, and the appropriate personal protective equipment, help them avoid exposure to both heat and fumes, and better focus on getting the road repair project completed.