Living in New England and experiencing the cold, snowy weather for months on end makes many long for warm, summer days. However, the sentiment may be different for those that must work in the extreme heat of summer. Not only is it uncomfortable and maybe even unbearable, but it is also unsafe and can be deadly. Every year, workers die and thousands more become ill while working in extreme heat or humid conditions. More than 40 percent of heat-related worker deaths occur in the construction industry, and workers in every field are susceptible. This article will explore how to prevent heat-related illnesses, what to look for, first-aid for heat-related illnesses, and resources.
According to the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, more than "800 U.S. workers have been killed in the past two decades by employers who failed to provide simple protections like rest, shade and water". This makes heat the leading cause of weather-related deaths above lightning, tornadoes, hurricanes, and floods combined.
Many workers are exposed to heat on the job in both indoor and outdoor heat environments. Any employer with workers exposed to high temperatures, at any time of year, should establish a complete heat illness prevention program. OSHA's campaign reminds employers and workers that there are three things to keep in mind to prevent heat-related illnesses: Water-Rest-Shade.
How to Prevent Heat-Related Illnesses:
Fortunately, most heat-related deaths and illnesses can be prevented. Learn the simple steps that can be taken to stay safe and healthy while working in the hot summer sun.
- Monitor - Monitor the weather and have a plan in place when hot temperatures are predicted. Temperatures and humidity can be tracked using the OSHA/NIOSH Heat Safety Tool App.
- Take Breaks - Take frequent breaks in a cool, shaded, or air-conditioned area.
- Stay Hydrated - This is probably one of the most important things you can do to keep your body cool. Make sure to drink water throughout the day. The CDC recommends "For moderately intense work that lasts less than 2 hours, workers should drink approximately 1 cup of water every 15 to 20 minutes. During prolonged sweating lasting several hours, workers should drink sports drinks containing balanced electrolytes."
- Train Workers - It is important to train on the risks and signs of heat illness, prevention, first-aid, and an emergency response plan.
Heat-Related Illnesses - What to Look For & What to Do:
There is a range of heat illnesses and they can affect anyone, regardless of age or physical condition an affected person can move through the continuum quite quickly. For this reason, everyone at a worksite of any kind should know the symptoms of heat-related illness and what to do accordingly.
For all types of heat illness, act promptly to move the victim to a cool, shaded area; loosen and/or remove outer clothing; cool the victim with cool water, cool compresses, and/or ice packs; and provide fluids (preferably water). Below is some additional information.
- Heat stress is the body’s early signs that the heat is too much.
Signs include dehydration, muscle cramps, and heat rash.
What to do: Affected workers should wait several hours before returning to work and should seek medical attention if the cramps persist.
- Heat exhaustion is the body's response to the loss of water and salt from heavy sweating.
Signs include headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, irritability, thirst, and heavy sweating.
What to do: Take the affected worker to a clinic or emergency room for medical evaluation if signs or symptoms worsen or do not improve within 60 minutes. Even if the worker does feel better, he/she should not return to work that day.
- Heat stroke is the most serious form of heat-related illness that happens when the body becomes unable to regulate its core temperature. Sweating stops and the body can no longer rid itself of excess heat. Heat stroke is a medical emergency that may result in death!
Signs include a very high body temperature; red, hot, and dry skin; confusion; loss of consciousness; and seizures.
What to do: Immediately call 911 once heat stroke is suspected and stay with the worker until help arrives.
- OSHA has launched a Heat Illness Prevention campaign, Water-Rest-Shade, which educates employers and workers on the dangers of working in the heat. Visit the site to learn more about heat-related illness symptoms, obtain education and training materials, and videos, and download the OSHA-NIOSH Heat Safety Tool (HST) Smartphone App. The HST app provides weather information, heat index, risk factors, heat illness symptoms, and first aid measures.
- National Council for Occupational Safety and Health's Outdoor & Indoor Workers Demand Protection to Beat the Heat campaign.
- Beat the Heat, the Beacon Mutual safety alert, which provides information to avoid the dangers of summer heat by following the prevention tips and learning the signs of heat stress.