Hot! Hot! Hot! Preventing Heat Illness

How you feelin’?  (Hot, hot, hot). Yes, Buster Poindexter may not have been thinking about employee safety when he asked this question but this is an excellent question to ask with the warm summer months finally upon us.

Working in warm conditions is a definite safety concern. Thousands of workers become sick every year from exposure to heat. Some even die. Heat illnesses and death are preventable if you learn to identify the warning signs and take the appropriate action.

Identifying Heat Illnesses

First, what are the various types of heat illnesses? There are basically four types:

  • heat rash
  • heat cramps
  • heat exhaustion
  • heatstroke

Heat rash is a skin irritation usually caused by excessive sweating. Heat cramps are muscle pains or spasms that can happen during periods of overexertion. These two are rather minor, easily treatable, and recovery is generally quick.

The two that get the most attention, and rightfully so, are heat exhaustion and heatstroke. It is important to note that heat exhaustion is the lessor of the two and if it goes untreated, will lead to heatstroke. Heat exhaustion symptoms include heavy sweating, rapid breathing, and a fast, weak pulse. Heatstroke symptoms include dry skin, rapid, strong pulse, and dizziness. Heatstroke is life-threatening. The body temperature has been known to rise above 106 degrees Fahrenheit in minutes as a result of this illness. People that get to this point must be treated immediately or they will die.

Heat illness can strike any employee whether they work inside or outside. However, workers exposed to hot and humid conditions are at a greater risk, especially those doing heavy work tasks or using bulky protective clothing and equipment. This risk can be increased even more for some if they have not built up a tolerance to hot conditions, including new workers, temporary workers, or those returning to work after a week or more off. All workers can be considered at risk during a heat wave.

As some workers are at greater risk of heat illness, certain industries have a higher rate of employees experiencing heat-related illness. Examples include construction; trade, transportation and utilities; agriculture; building and grounds maintenance; and landscaping services.

So now that you have an idea of the warning signs of a heat related illness, the next question to ask is what can I do?

Preventing Heat Illnesses

The best form of protection is prevention. Employers should establish a complete heat illness prevention program which includes provisions for providing workers with water, rest and shade; modified work schedules as necessary; planning for emergencies along with training for workers about the symptoms of heat-related illnesses and their prevention; and monitoring workers for signs of illness.

Other strategies to protect you from a heat-related illness are:

  • Drink water every 15 minutes, even if you are not thirsty.
  • Rest in the shade to cool down.
  • Wear a hat and light-colored clothing.
  • “Easy does it” on your first days of work in the heat. You need to get used to it.
  • Eat a regular, well-balanced diet. Try to stay away from hot or heavy foods.
  • Be aware that water, concrete, and sand reflect the sun and can make it stronger.

Heat Safety Resources

OSHA currently has a nationwide Heat Illness Prevention Campaign to raise awareness and teach workers and employers about the dangers of working in hot weather. Click here for valuable resources to address these concerns.

OSHA also has a smartphone application for Android and iPhone. This free heat safety app allows users to enter the current temperature and humidity. It will calculate the heat index and provide a risk level. You can then select “precautions” and it will give you a list of what you can do based on the current risk level.

It is also worthy to note that OSHA’s Heat Illness website and many resources are available en español.

Society Insurance is committed to promoting workplace safety and helping our policyholders prevent workplace accidents. Contact our risk management department and let a risk control representative assist you with the development of a Heat Illness Prevention Program.

DOWNLOAD a FREE handout to share with your employees on reducing the hazards of working in hot conditions.

Heat illness is something we all need to think about as we enjoy the warm summer months. Whether at work or play OSHA asks that we remember these three simple words: Water, Rest, and Shade. Taking these precautions can mean the difference between life and death.

-Pat O’Brien

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