As last week marked the first official day of summer, temperatures will continue to climb as we move toward the dog days of July and August. Excessive heat can cause serious injuries both at work and at home. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), more than 65,000 people seek medical attention for extreme heat exposure every year. When combined with outdoor construction projects, heat can be a recipe for disaster if you don’t plan ahead.
When faced with hot work environments, practice the following safety habits:
- Check the forecast. It’s always a good idea to check the local weather forecast every morning to stay updated on any major temperature changes. Have sunblock, temperature-appropriate clothing, and sunglasses at the ready.
- Don’t forget about humidity. The heat index is the temperature the body feels when the effects of both heat and humidity are combined. Exposure to full sunshine can increase the heat index by 15° Fahrenheit. OSHA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recently designed a free mobile heat safety app that determines heat index values and also provides information on what precautions to take to stay safe on job sites. The app is called “OSHA-NIOSH Heat Safety Tool” and can be found in the iTunes or Google Play app stores.
- Stay hydrated. In extreme heat, our bodies can lose significant amounts of water and salt through our sweat. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty. When in doubt, water is the best option to prevent dehydration. Beverages with electrolytes can also help replenish salt and minerals you lose in sweat. Make sure to avoid alcohol, caffeine, and other sugary drinks which can contribute to dehydration.
- Take breaks. Take occasional breaks in the shade or indoors when temperatures rise. Take advantage of air conditioning units to help cool down and get out of direct sunlight.
- Don’t overdo it. When dealing with extreme heat, it’s always a good idea to know your own limits. Take your time and work at an even pace so that you don’t overexert yourself.
- Work smarter, not harder. Where possible schedule more physically demanding tasks for cooler parts of the day. When this is unavoidable, consider rotating breaks with another co-worker to avoid prolonged exposure to the sun. Gradual exposure to heat gives the body time to acclimate to higher temperatures.
- Know the symptoms of heat-related illnesses. Heat-related illnesses can vary but some common symptoms include dizziness, headaches, nausea, muscle cramps, and excessive sweating. If anyone exhibits these signs, they should get out of the heat as soon as possible, take a break and receive the proper care.
Safety, when practiced correctly, is not an accident, it’s a plan with built-in procedures to avoid or address accidents quickly and is there to protect our greatest resource, our people.