Summer is in full swing and for many laborers, that means having to work in hot indoor and outdoor environments over a long period of time.
Being exposed to such conditions can heat-related illnesses that can cause physical harm and even death.
These risks are not for the employee alone as the employers must be wary of these conditions and provide a workplace designed to prevent or rid these hazards altogether.
It is important to note that Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has no specific standard for heat stress, but the General Duty Clause from the Occupational Safety and Health Act protects employees. The Act states that employers must provide a place of employment that is free of recognized hazards that are likely to cause physical harm or death.
WHAT IS HEAT ILLNESS?
The body maintains a normal temperature and when it is exposed to high temperatures, rids itself of excess heat by varying the rate of blood circulation and releasing fluid through the sweat glands. Through evaporation of the sweat, the body cools.
That process is disrupted when temperatures approach normal skin temperature and the body struggles to maintain that normal temperature. Blood brought to the body’s surface cannot cool and thus sweat becomes the primary means of lowering the body temperature. Sweat must evaporate for this to work, but high humidity can hinder its ability to do so and the process of maintaining body temperature is seriously impaired.
WHAT CAN IT LEAD TO?
Exposure to high heat can affect workers’ safety as much as their health.
Heat can lead to a higher frequency of workplace accidents because dizziness, sweaty palms and fogged safety goggles put employees at risk. The likelihood of poor judgment also increases as exposure to high temperatures causes confusion, tiredness, and irritability. It can potentially lead to accidental burns from hot surfaces or steam.
When it comes to health, hot environments can cause heat cramps, fainting, heat rash, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke.
Common signs of heat illnesses include:
- Fast heartbeat
HOW TO PREVENT IT:
Hydration is key: It is recommended to stay hydrated. Drink at least one cup of water every 15 to 20 minutes and don’t wait until you are thirsty to drink.
Care about what you wear: Dark colors and heat don’t mix, so it’s best to wear light-colored, loose-fitting, and breathable clothes if possible. A hat also helps when in direct sun. If you have a face covering, change it out if it gets wet or soiled.
Get acclimated: Three in every four fatalities from heat illness occur during the first week of work. The body needs time to build tolerance, so take breaks and increase the duration of intense work in the heat a little each day. Start slow if you’re a new or returning worker.
Have a plan: It’s important that you be prepared for anything. Have a plan in case of an emergency. Train for it and even rehearse or quiz each other. Know where you’re at in case you need to call 911.
Take a break: Don’t be afraid to take a break and find some shade. It’s okay to work hard but pushing too hard and overworking yourself can put you at risk. Take small breaks and be mindful of what your body is feeling.