Enjoying the outdoors in the summer is something many of us look forward to, but it can also pose health and safety risks to outdoor workers. These hot summer months can present serious health issues for outdoor workers. However, there are a number of preventative measures that employers and workers can take to ensure that we all get to enjoy the warm sun, clear skies, and all of the other fun things that go along with this most anticipated season.
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, but workers in every field are susceptible. Environmental heat exposure alone is directly associated with an average of more than 600 fatalities each year in the U.S. making heat the leading cause of weather-related deaths above lightening, 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 reminder employers and worker that there are three things to keep in mind to prevent heat related illnesses: Water-Rest-Shade.
Types of Heat-related IllnessesThere are a range of heat illnesses and they can affect anyone, regardless of age or physical condition. Everyone at a worksite of any kind should know the symptoms of each illness and what do accordingly:
- 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 a very high body temperature; red, hot and dry skin; confusion; loss of consciousness; and seizures. Heat stroke is a medical emergency that may result in death! Call 911 immediately.
- 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 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 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 rash and heat cramps should be taken seriously as they can be precursors to more severe heat related illness such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Always call 911 if a worker shows any signs or symptoms of heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
First Aid for Heat-related Illnesses
First aid for heat stroke, heat exhaustion, and heat cramps are similar. For all heat related illness except for heat rash, 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).
- If heat stroke is even remotely suspected, immediately call 911 and stay with the worker until help arrives.
- For heat exhaustion, the affected worker should be taken 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.
- For heat cramps, affected workers should wait several hours before returning to work and should seek medical attention if the cramps don’t go away.
- Heat rash is best treated by moving the affected worker to a cooler and less humid environment if possible, and by keeping the affected body areas dry.
Prevent Heat-related Illnesses
- Provide any workers exposed to heat with sufficient amounts of water, rest, and shade.
- Allow new or returning workers to gradually increase workloads and take more frequent breaks as they acclimatize, or build a tolerance for working in the heat.
- Plan for emergencies and train workers on prevention.
- Monitor workers for signs of illness.
Overexposure to Sunlight
Sunlight contains ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which causes premature aging of the skin, wrinkles, cataracts, and skin cancer. There are no safe UV rays or safe suntans. Be especially careful in the sun if you burn easily, spend a lot of time outdoors, or have any of the following physical features: numerous, irregular, or large moles; freckles; fair skin; or blond, red, or light brown hair.
How to block those harmful rays:
- Cover up. Wear loose-fitting, long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
- Use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. Be sure to follow application directions on the bottle or tube.
- Wear a hat. A wide brim hat, not a baseball cap, works best because it protects the neck, ears, eyes, forehead, nose, and scalp.
- Wear UV-absorbent sunglasses (eye protection). Sunglasses don’t have to be expensive, but they should block 99 to 100 percent of UVA and UVB radiation. Before you buy sunglasses, read the product tag or label.
- Limit exposure. UV rays are most intense between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
It’s important to examine your body monthly because skin cancers detected early can almost always be cured. The most important warning sign is a spot on the skin that is changing in size, shape, or color during a period of 1 month to 1 or 2 years. Skin cancers often take the following forms: pale, wax-like, pearly nodules; red, scaly, sharply outlined patches; sores that don’t heal; and small, mole-like growths—melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer. If you find such unusual skin changes, see a health care professional immediately.
- 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, to obtain educational and training materials, videos, and to 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.
- 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.
- For more information on heat related illnesses, and to download the Beacon's "Beat the Heat" infographic, read Working in High Heat Conditions.
- Register for Beacon Mutual's upcoming “Heat Illness Prevention” webinar scheduled for 7/16/20 and 8/13/20, and view the list of available Safety Seminars and Webinars.