The Heat is On
With steamy temperatures popping up all over the county, don’t forget to think about the dangers that the heat brings. Whether you work outdoors, or in hot indoor environments, it’s important to protect yourself and your co-workers against the effects of the heat.
Occupational factors that can contribute to heat illness include high temperature and humidity, low fluid consumption, direct sun exposure without shade, limited air movement, physical exertion, and the use of bulky protective clothing and equipment.
Prolonged and excessive exposure to heat can cause a range of heat-related illnesses, including heat rash, heat cramps, and heat exhaustion. The risk increases if you’re doing rigorous work tasks or wearing heavy, bulky clothing. Heat stroke is the most dangerous of all heat-related illnesses, and requires immediate medical attention. Left untreated, it could lead to a worker’s death.
Stay Ahead of the Temperatures
Heat-related illnesses and deaths are preventable. Whether your workplace is indoors or out, there are basic steps to take to protect yourself and your crew:
- Regularly monitor the weather forecast and plan ahead for high temperatures
- Alert workers to the temperatures and heat index for the day, and inform them of the precautions that are in place to prevent heat-related illnesses
- Provide adequate amounts of cool drinking water close to the work site
- Ensure adequate medical services are available
- Acclimatize new and returning workers performing strenuous work. Workers not used to the work may be at higher risk for heat-related illnesses, even if the heat index is low.
- Take additional precautions for workers wearing heavy or non-breathable clothing. These workers can experience heat-related illness in temperatures as low as 70ºF.
- Encourage outdoor workers to wear sunscreen and use additional protection (hats, cooling apparel, safety glasses with dark lenses, etc.)
As the temperatures rise, extra precautions should be taken:
- Encourage workers to frequently drink small amounts of water, before they become thirsty
- Replacing electrolytes and minerals lost while sweating is also an essential part of fighting off the effects of heat stress and maintaining a normal temperature. Provide your workers with electrolyte replacement drinks or tablets.
- Establish and enforce work/rest schedules to control exposure to extreme temperatures
- Adjust work activities to help reduce the risk of heat exposure
- Set up a buddy system, so workers can watch for signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses in each other
- Have supervisors watch for signs of heat-related illnesses in workers