It’s officially summer and we thought we should get some input on warm weather construction procedures. We got the opportunity to chat with three professionals in the industry about different precautions and tips that should be considered when working in the field and onsite during the warmer weather months.

Warm Weather Procedures:

Kent Bounds, President of Brazos Masonry: “The single largest change in direction from winter to summer is how we handle our people. Since winters are mild in Texas, we never truly winterize a project. If the temperature falls below 40, we start to pay close attention to nightly low temperature to determine whether to quit early or to start late. Switching over to summer means we don’t have to pay attention to the low temperature.

With that being said, our employees are the single biggest risk factor we face when working in the summer. When you can simply go outside and start sweating without doing anything, working becomes a challenge.  Mandatory breaks and water coolers are requirement. Heat exhaustion becomes a daily reminder for our crews during our morning JSA review. Being watchful, being patient, and be flexible drives us during the summer months.”

Melonie Leslie, General Manager of G & G Enterprises: “Yes, there are several procedures. Most of them involve using chilled or cool water in mortar and grout mixes but also taking care to flush surfaces with cool water before they come into contact with mortar and grout.”

Brandon Hartsell, Project Manager with Gates Construction Company, Inc.: “We train workers before it gets hot. Train workers about safe work practices before heat index levels go up. Prepare workers so that they recognize the signs and symptoms of heat-related illness, how to prevent it, and what to do if someone has symptoms. We reinforce the training on hot days.” 

Warm Weather Construction vs. Cold Weather Construction

Kent Bounds: “Not a large difference.  The single largest factor is the amount of time we can leave brick or block un-struck in the wall and the life of mortar sitting on a mud board has to be monitored more closely. “

Melonie Leslie:  “Yes, the mortar and grout mixes set up and lose workability much faster in summer. In addition, production rates or the ability to work overtime may decrease due to high temperatures.”

Brandon Hartsel: “Yes! Here are some important tips and reminders for on-site summer construction:

  • Always remove the plastic wrap from the cubes of brick upon delivery to the site.
  • Cover the cubes of brick with plywood boards or tarps.
  • When you start to mortar, spread only enough to permit the setting of the brick that you are working on.
  • Remember to discard the mortar within two hours.
  • Efforts should be concentrated on the proper installation of the control and expansion joints.
  • At the end of the day, spray the walls once they have achieved the initial set to compensate for evaporation.
  • Also, because of the summer heat masonry materials and mixing equipment should be stored in shaded areas.
  • It is important that the sand be moist throughout the day to maintain uniformity of the sand moisture for the duration of the wall construction.
  • All equipment should be cooled and the wooden mortar boards should be presoaked.

Safety Precautions:

Kent Bounds: “As stated above, mandatory breaks and water coolers are a strict requirement. Heat exhaustion is monitored daily with more attention to the afternoons. On several projects, we have worked nights to help with the heat. We have projects starting at 4am and ending at noon. Contractors in Texas have been very open to ways to keep production at a high level while still keeping our employees safe. “

Melonie Leslie: “During the summer, surfaces can become extremely hot. Gloves can be essential to avoid burning your hands when touching metal components. Also, hydration is key. Crews should take frequent drinks of water throughout the day. It’s best to take small drinks frequently rather than a large amount at once.

They also should rehydrate while at home to be ready for the next workday. Avoiding caffeine and energy drinks also assist in staying hydrated while working on site.  Education and reminders for crews on the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke are also important so employees can identify if they or a co-worker are in trouble.”

Brandon Hartsell: “Hydrate, avoid designer beverages; stick with water. Select snacks and lunches carefully. Schedule your day to work when it is cooler. Bring shade. Check you uniform; make sure it is safe but lightweight.”

Considerations for Warm Weather Construction:

Kent Bounds: “Slightly slower production.  Not because our bricklayers are installing less material, it’s because we are having them take more breaks.  Honestly, most of our production will take place in the first six hours.  The last two will be a struggle especially when laying CMU.  Another item, if an employee comes to you struggling to talk and complaining of being light headed, you pay close attention.  It’s not the time to be tough and tell them to get back to work.”

Melonie Leslie: “ You need to be aware of when the hottest parts of the day fall. Shift your work to start as early as possible to avoid working during these parts of the day. Also, make an effort to work on the “cool” side of the building if possible as the sun shifts. Typically during the main part of summer, crews aren’t able to maintain production for over an eight-hour shift due to being worn out from the temperatures. Also, coordination needs to occur with whomever is ordering grout so that chilled water can be added into the mix.“

Experience With Warm Weather Construction:

Kent Bounds: “We were working on a large residential high rise in Houston two summers ago. The temperature would reach the high 90’s with humidity above 90%. The heat index would reach into the 110’s. Every afternoon at 2pm the contractor would stop the entire structure to pass out popsicles to every employee.

It was a small gesture, but one that worked.  We had another project in Austin last summer at the University of Texas, where a snow-cone truck showed up every day at lunch to pass out FREE snow cones to anyone who wanted one.  Small ways to keep your guys cool will show that everyone cares for their safety, which in the end goes a long way.”

Melonie Leslie: “We always remind our guys about hydration and knowing their limits as hot weather sets in. Every year we have a few that will need to end their day early because they are overheated. This has been new employees but also seasoned veterans. The heat doesn’t discriminate. We have found that energy drinks can contribute to dehydration significantly and strongly recommend that our crews stay away from them in the summer. We start at sunrise and usually only work eight-hour shifts.”

Advice for Working in Warm Weather Conditions

Kent Bounds: “Be patient, be watchful, and be flexible. That has helped us succeed each and every summer.”

Melonie Leslie: “You’ll need to be aware that the heat can be extremely taxing on the crews. This can affect production rates, moral and health of the crews. Also, keep in mind that adding cooled or chilled water to mixes are for additional fees. Inspectors may test the temperature of your mixes to ensure they are compliant. If they aren’t, loads may be rejected. You should also take the time to provide extra education to your crews on hydration and the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke.”

Brandon Hartsell: “Be smart. Use common sense. Follow the items above. Be safe!!”

Words: Masonry Magazine
Photos: ezza116, lawcain, tiverlucky