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Heat Stress 101: Are you doing everything you can to protect your workers?

Heat Stress
  • It’s that time of year again where we need to be concerned about our workers surviving the heat through the long dog days of summer. Business owners who have workers that suffer from heat stress in early summer always say to me, “but it’s not that hot yet!”.

    They are exactly right, but we fail to remember that we always see an increased number of heat related incidents in early summer rather than the constant heat of August. The answer to that misconception is that the workers must acclimate their bodies to perform in the increased heat and humidity.

    Once hot weather begins, business owners need to encourage additional short physical breaks and additional water consumption to adjust to the new needs of their workers’ bodies for optimum performance.

    Here are the facts of what business owners should be doing and paying attention to when it comes to recognizing heat related illnesses and responding to them quickly.

    What is Heat Stress?

    Heat stress can happen when the body cannot get rid of excess heat.  There are several different types of heat related illnesses that range from mild to severe symptoms.  Exposure to heat can cause serious  illness and even death.

    Risk Factors for Heat Stress

    It’s important to remember that some workers may be at a greater risk for heat stress.  Those with a higher risk factor include workers that over the age of 65, are overweight or obese, have high blood pressure or heart disease, or are taking medications that may be affected by heat exposure.  Heat stress can also be made worse by dehydration, alcohol use, and wearing excessive clothing.

    Types of Heat Stress

    Heat Rash

    When sweat doesn’t evaporate from the skin, irritation can occur known as heat rash. This is one of the most common types of heat related illnesses.

    Symptoms of Heat Rash

    • Red bumps on skin
    • Commonly appears on the neck, top of the chest, or folds of skin

    Heat Cramps

    Heat cramps can occur when the body loses salt from excessive sweating. This can occur during or after work hours.

    Symptoms of Heat Cramps

    • Muscle cramps or spasms
    • Muscle pain

    Heat Exhaustion

    Heat exhaustion can occur as a result of strenuous physical activity especially in high humidity.  It is caused by the body losing water and excessive sweating.

    Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion

    • Headache, dizziness, or fainting
    • Weakness and wet skin
    • Irritability or confusion
    • Thirst, nausea, or vomiting

    Heat Stroke

    The most serious heat related illness is heat stroke.  If the worker is not alert or seems confused, this may be a heat stroke. CALL 911 IMMEDIATELY and apply ice as soon as possible.

    Symptoms of Heat Stroke

    • May be confused, unable to think clearly, pass out, collapse, or have seizures (fits)
    • May stop sweating

    How to Prevent Heat Illness

    These are OSHA precautions that can be taken any time temperatures are high and the job involves physical work:

    • Provide a lot of cool water to workers close to the work area. At least one pint of water per hour is needed.
    • Modify work schedules and arrange frequent rest periods with water breaks in shaded or air-conditioned areas.
    • Gradually increase workloads and allow more frequent breaks for workers new to the heat or those that have been away from work to adapt to working in the heat (acclimatization).
    • Designate a responsible person to monitor conditions and protect workers who are at risk of heat stress.
    • Consider protective clothing that provides cooling.
    • Know signs/symptoms of heat illnesses; monitor yourself; use a buddy system.
    • Block out direct sun and other heat sources.
    • Drink plenty of fluids. Drink often and BEFORE you are thirsty. Drink water every 15 minutes.
    • Avoid beverages containing alcohol or caffeine.
    • Wear lightweight, light colored, loose fitting clothes.

    What to Do When a Worker is Ill from the Heat

    • Call a supervisor for help. If the supervisor is not available, call 911.
    • Have someone stay with the worker until help arrives.
    • Move the worker to a cooler/shaded area.
    • Remove outer clothing.
    • Fan and mist the worker with water; apply ice (ice bags or ice towels).
    • Provide cool drinking water, if able to drink.

    Heat stress can be very severe and should be taken seriously on job sites.  Follow these tips to prevent heat stress, recognize symptoms, and take quick action.  Should you have any questions on how to protect your workers from heat stress, feel free to contact us today.

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