Water, Rest, and Shade for Outdoor Workers

Summer may have just officially started last week, but parts of the country have already been experiencing hot, humid weather. Workers in many industries may be required to do their jobs in these difficult conditions and face its dangers daily. When the human body is unable to maintain a normal temperature, heat stress and illness can occur and may result in the worker’s death. 

It’s critical that you and your employees understand the risks and recognize the signs of heat stress and illness.

The following are illnesses that may result from exposure to heat in the workplace:

  • Heat Stroke is the most severe type of heat stress. This is a medical emergency that may result in death. The signs of heat stoke are confusion, loss of consciousness, and seizures. Workers experiencing heat stroke have a very high body temperature and may stop sweating. If someone shows signs of heat stroke, seek medical help immediately, and call 911. Until medical help arrives, move the worker to a shady, cool area and remove as much clothing as possible. Wet him/her with cool water and circulate the air to speed cooling. Place cold cloths, towels, or ice all over the body or soak the worker’s clothing with cold water.
  • Heat Exhaustion’s symptoms are headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, irritability, confusion, thirst, heavy sweating, and a body temperature greater than 100.4ºF. Workers with heat exhaustion should be removed from the hot area and given liquids to drink. Cool the worker with cold compresses to the head, neck, and face or have him/her wash those areas with cold water. These workers should be taken to a clinic or emergency room for evaluation and treatment, and someone should stay with them until attended by medical personnel. If symptoms worsen, call 911 and get help immediately.
  • Heat Cramps are muscle pains usually caused by the loss of body salts and fluid during sweating. Employees with heat cramps should replace fluid loss by drinking water and/or carbohydrate/electrolyte replacement liquids every 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Heat Rash is brought on by sweating and looks like a red cluster of pimples or small blisters. The best treatment for this is to provide a cooler, less humid work environment. Additionally, the rash area should be kept dry. 

OSHA recommends that you take these essential actions to protect workers in hot environments:

  • Consider a worker’s physical fitness to work in hot conditions
  • Have employees work in pairs to reduce the stress, and so that they can keep an eye on each other’s physical condition
  • Provide easy access to a supply of safe drinking water and encourage workers to drink plenty throughout their shift – at least one quart per hour
  • Avoid scheduling the heaviest work on the hottest days or at the hottest time of the day
  • Alternate work and rest periods in very hot weather, making sure workers have a cool, shady place to take their breaks
  • Monitor temperatures and worker responses regularly
  • Train workers to recognize the signs of heat stress and illness and know what steps to take in an emergency

The combination of heat, humidity, and people can be deadly. Protect outdoor workers by taking measures to prevent heat stress and illness. The proper precautions help everyone stay safe and healthy all summer. 

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