For some of us, the heat is just an inconvenience as we go from our comfortable air-conditioned houses, to the car, to our often cold as ice office. But for outdoor workers and those who work in hot environments, the rising temperatures pose a serious threat. Not only can heat stress cause illness, it can also increase the risk of other injuries to workers experiencing sweaty palms, fogged-up safety glasses or dizziness. Protecting workers from heat stress is vital.
Do you know how to recognize the signs of heat stress? Do your employees? Employees and supervisors who work in extreme temperatures need training to learn how they can protect themselves against over-heating and prevent heat-related symptoms that can cause sickness and can even be fatal.
High temperatures during the summer are an obvious contributor, but there are other factors that can contribute to heat stress.
- Low fluid intake by the worker (dehydration).
- Direct sun exposure (with no shade) for long period.
- Extreme heat from job task (i.e. No A/C in Service Departments, Paint Booths, etc.).
- Limited air movement.
- Physical exertion.
- Use of bulky protective clothing and equipment.
- Poor physical condition or on-going health problems.
- Some medications.
- Lack of previous exposure to hot workplaces.
- Excessive alcohol intake the day before.
- Previous heat-related illnesses.
Heat-related illnesses often begin with minor symptoms. Fatigue, a decline in performance (particularly physical activity), and lack of concentration are all early indications of heat stress.
Although we always recommend that any injury or illness be treated by a healthcare professional, the ability to recognize the symptoms of heat stress and deliver aid until professional care can be provided could be lifesaving.
According to the General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1) of OSHA, employers are required to supply their employees with a safe working environment that is “free from recognizable hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious harm to employees.” Employees have the right to a safe workplace that does not cause heat-related sickness or death. And employers have a legal obligation to ensure this environment.
To protect workers from excessive heat, OSHA recommends the following heat stress practices:
- Provide water, shade, and a resting area.
- Allow new or returning workers to increase workloads gradually and take more frequent breaks as they acclimate to the heat.
- Have a plan for emergencies.
- Monitor workers for signs of illness.
- Train employees to prevent heat illness and heat stroke.
- Report all cases of heat stress symptoms and illness (if a worker needed intravenous fluids, not simply needing to drink more water).
For more information on Heat Stress see the OSHA Website and check out their mobile device app that can be used to calculate the heat index and includes reminders and protective measures to take based upon the heat index.