As temperatures rise this summer, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reminds us to be vigilant regarding the potential for Heat Illnesses, and offers strategies to protect ourselves from the dangers of working in hot weather.
OSHA’s message is simple: Water. Rest. Shade. Supervisors should encourage team members to drink water every 15 minutes, and take necessary rest breaks in shaded areas in order to maintain a healthy core body temperature. It is also recommended to increase your water consumption, even when not out in the heat, to keep your body prepared for when you are. A good safety practice is to drink at least a bottle of water an hour to ensure you will have enough fluids in your body to keep you safe and healthy while working in the Heat. This will mean that you drink even when you aren’t thirsty.
Dangers of Working in the Heat
Every year, dozens of workers die and thousands more become ill while working in extreme heat or humid conditions. There are a range of heat illnesses and they can affect anyone, regardless of age or physical condition.
Heat rash, also known as prickly heat, is skin irritation caused by sweat that does not evaporate from the skin. Heat rash is the most common problem in hot work environments.
Heat cramps are caused by the loss of body salts and fluid during sweating. Low salt levels in muscles cause painful cramps. Tired muscles, those used for performing the work, are usually the ones most affected by cramps. Cramps may occur during or after working hours.
Heat exhaustion is the body’s response to loss of water and salt from heavy sweating. Signs include headache, nausea, dizziness,weakness, irritability, thirst, and heavy sweating.
Heat stroke, the most serious form of heat-related illness, happens when the body becomes unable to regulate its core temperature. Sweating stops and the body can no longer rid itself of excess heat. Signs include confusion, loss of consciousness, and seizures.
Heat stroke is a medical emergency that may result in death!
Call 911 immediately.
The chart below shows symptoms and first aid measures to take if a worker shows signs of a heat-related illness.
– Excessive sweating or red, hot, dry skin
– Very high body temperature
– Call 911
While waiting for help:
– Place worker in shady, cool area
– Loosen clothing, remove outer clothing
– Fan air on worker; cold packs in armpits
– Wet worker with cool water; apply ice packs, cool compresses, or ice if available
– Provide fluids (preferably water) as soon as possible
– Stay with worker until help arrives
– Cool, moist skin
– Heavy sweating
– Nausea or vomiting
– Light headedness
– Fast heart beat
– Have worker sit or lie down in a cool, shady area
– Give worker plenty of water or other cool beverages to drink
– Cool worker with cold compresses/ice packs
– Take to clinic or emergency room for medical evaluation or treatment if signs or symptoms worsen or do not improve within 60 minutes.
– Do not return to work that day
– Muscle spasms
– Usually in abdomen, arms, or legs
– Have worker rest in shady, cool area
– Worker should drink water or other cool beverages
– Wait a few hours before allowing worker to return to strenuous work
– Have worker seek medical attention if cramps don’t go away
– Clusters of red bumps on skin
– Often appears on neck, upper chest, folds of skin
– Try to work in a cooler, less humid environment when possible
– Keep the affected area dry
Exposure to heat can also increase the risk of work related injuries because of sweaty palms, fogged-up safety glasses, dizziness, and burns from hot surfaces or steam. Heat can also bring on fatigue much more quickly, which can lead to complacency on the job. Complacency leads to poor decision-making, which can lead to very serious accidents that can get you or your team in all kinds of trouble.
The OSHA-NIOSH Heat Safety Tool is a free, downloadable app that calculates a worksite’s heat index and displays the associated risk levels. Users can receive precautionary recommendations specific to heat index risk levels to help protect employees from heat-related illness.