The heat is on, and with plenty of triple-digit temperatures expected, it’s time to make the safety of your workers your top priority. We know we have! This is especially important because the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center is expecting temperatures to be hotter than normal June through August 2017.
Managing the Risk
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), workers who are exposed to extreme heat or work in hot environments may be at risk of heat-related illness. Workers at even greater risk include those who are 65 years of age or older, are overweight, have heart disease or high blood pressure, or those in poor physical shape.
Heat-related illness occurs when the body is not able to compensate for the heat generated by a combination of physical work and external heat sources, and properly cool itself. It is a medical emergency that can result in heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, and/or heat rash.
Every year, thousands of workers become ill from occupational heat exposure, and some even die according to the Occupational Health and Safety Association (OSHA). The good news is that these illnesses are 100% preventable. To keep your workers safe and productive, it’s important to understand the warning signs of heat exhaustion and stroke, as well as lesser heat-related illnesses.
WARNING SYMPTOMS: HEAT STROKE
Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness. Immediate medical attention is required! Symptoms include dizziness, a high body temperature (103˚F), hot, dry skin without sweating, seizures, loss of consciousness, and nausea or vomiting. Heat stroke can be fatal if emergency treatment is not given.
WARNING SYMPTOMS: HEAT EXHAUSTION
Heat exhaustion is the body’s response to an excessive loss of water and salt. Symptoms include headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, irritability, excessive sweating, an unquenchable thirst, elevated body temperature, and cramps. The skin may be moist and cool. Treat a worker by moving them to a cool, air conditioned place, applying cool compresses and rehydrating. Transport to medical facility for evaluation.
WARNING SYMPTOMS: HEAT CRAMPS
The symptoms of heat cramps include muscle cramps, pain or spasms in the abdomen, arms or legs. Workers should drink water every 15 minutes. Eating a light snack is also advisable.
WARNING SYMPTOMS: HEAT RASH
Heat rash is a skin rash caused by excessive sweating. It is characterized as red clusters of pimples or small blisters that usually appear on the neck, upper chest, groin, under the breasts, and in elbow creases. Workers should keep rash area clean.
Tips to Avoid Heat-Related Illness
Here are some simple ways to help your workers stay safe in triple-digit temperatures.
#1. Pace Yourself
Pace your work and take frequent breaks. This is especially important if you’re not accustomed to working in the heat. It may take several weeks for a worker’s body to acclimatize. Lastly, it’s important to use a “buddy system,” working in pairs throughout your shift so that symptoms can be effectively communicated.
#2. Drink Plenty of Fluids
Staying hydrated will help your body maintain a normal body temperature. Don’t wait to rehydrate until you’re thirsty. Drink one 8-ounce glass of water every 15 minutes when working or exercising outdoors. Avoid caffeinated and carbonated drinks. These can quickly lead to dehydration, increasing the effects of heat-related illness.
#3. Get a Good Night’s Rest
Most people understand the importance of getting a good night’s rest, but far too often, life’s commands or stimulants (e.g., coffee or energy drinks) get in the way of us getting in the National Sleep Foundation’s recommended 7 to 9 hours (for adults). Getting enough sleep is paramount for your health and productivity.
#4. Wear Appropriate Clothing and Sunscreen
Lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing will allow your body to properly cool itself. Appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) must still be used. When outdoors, you should also wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses, as well as use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. Apply sunscreen generously, reapplying every 1 to 2 hours.
#5. Be Prepared
Before your shift begins, listen to local weather forecasts, or visit The Weather Channel to stay aware of upcoming temperature changes. Plan accordingly. Discuss heat safety precautions with your employer.
The American Red Cross defines the following as:
HEAT WAVE: A prolonged period of excessive heat, generally 10 degrees or more above average, often combined with excessive humidity. Don’t let anyone tell you Arizona is a “dry” heat. It’s not.
HEAT ADVISORY: Heat Index values (the temperature the body feels when the effects of heat and humidity are combined) are forecasting to meet or exceed excessive heat warning criteria for 1 to 2 days (daytime highs = 100-105˚F).
EXCESSIVE HEAT WATCH: Conditions are favorable for an excessive heat event to meet or exceed local excessive heat warning criteria in the next 24 to 72 hours.
EXCESSIVE HEAT WARNING: Heat Index values are forecasting to meet or exceed locally defined warning criteria for at least 2 days (daytime highs = 105-110˚F).
#6. Other Things You Can Do to Stay Safe
- Work while its cool
- Stay in good physical shape
- Avoid hot, enclosed spaces, such as cars
- Eat meals that are well-balanced and light
- Try to stay in relatively cool areas during breaks
- Be aware of the post-lunch dip effect of drowsiness