We are few weeks into summer and it’s time to remind your workers about the hazards of heat stress and how to protect themselves from it. Heat-related injuries can be avoided if workers and supervisors are properly trained and know the symptoms and actions to take.
There Are Many Factors That Can Cause or Contribute to Heat-Related Illness. Here Are Just a Few:
- High temperature and humidity
- Low fluid consumption
- Direct sun exposure or extreme heat
- Limited air movement
- Increased or excessive physical exertion
- Bulky protective clothing or equipment
- Health problems
- Some medications
- Failure to acclimate to hot workplaces
- Previous heat-related illness
There are four primary health issues that are caused by heat exposure. Here are the most dangerous with a brief explanation of the signs or symptoms and actions to take should the symptoms manifest themselves.
Heat rash is one of the most common heat-related illness in hot work environments. It is caused by sweating, looks like a red cluster of pimples or small blisters, and is most commonly observed in damp or restricted areas such as elbows, arm pits, necklines, and knees. If identified, the rash needs to remain dry. Creams or ointment should not be used as a first aid remedy.
Heat cramps are muscle pains usually caused by over-exertion in a hot work environment that cause a loss of body salts and fluid during sweating. Workers experiencing heat cramps should be relocated to a cooler environment and replace lost fluids by drinking water or liquids with high carbohydrate-electrolytes (sports drink) every 20 minutes.
The second most serious heat-related illness is Heat Exhaustion. The symptoms are headaches, nausea, dizziness, weakness, irritability, confusion, thirst, heavy sweating, and a body temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit. Workers with these symptoms should be moved to a cooler environment and given liquids to drink. Any unnecessary clothing should be removed including shoes and socks. It is very important to attempt to lower the body temperature by applying cool compresses to the head, neck and face. Workers with signs or symptoms of heat exhaustion should be taken to a clinic or emergency room for medical evaluation prior to returning to work.
Heat stroke is the most dangerous heat-related health illness. Heat stroke occurs when the body’s temperature regulating system fails and internal body temperatures rise to critical levels, which are over 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Signs of a possible heat stroke are confusion, loss of consciousness and seizures. Even though the body’s temp is critically high it may stop sweating leaving skin pale and clammy feeling. If the body’s temperature is at this level then it is a medical emergency that may result in death! Immediately get medical attention and call 911. Until medical help arrives, move the worker into a cool environment and remove as much clothing as possible. Cool the worker by placing cool, wet compresses or ice all over the body.
Train and Prevent
The most important tool that workers can have is training on what to look for, how to prevent, and what to do if they or a co-worker experiences a heat-related illness. Along with training here are a few tips your company can follow to lessen the effects of the heat and prevent heat-related illness.
- Allow workers to build a tolerance by increasing exposure over a 5 day period. Have a plan written out that gradually increases the workload outdoors until the worker is at a 100% on the fifth working day.
- Provide workers with plenty of cold water in locations that are convenient and visible to the work area. Water should be between 50 and 60 degrees if possible.
- Every worker should be reminding others to drink water frequently. They should be drinking about 6 ounces every 15 minutes. The warmer the conditions the more each worker should drink but be aware that it is harmful to drink an extreme amount of water. Do not drink more than 12 quarts of water in a 24 hour period.
- Keep track of the weather forecast. Try to reschedule strenuous work on high heat weather days or schedule during cooler times of the day.
- Schedule frequent rest and water breaks in cool, shaded, or air conditioned areas.
With the summer just starting to heat up, it is important to keep your workers safe from heat-related illness by educating them about the hazards, symptoms, and preferred first aid or emergency response associated with heat-related illness.
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