Thousands of workers every year become sick from exposure to heat – some even die. The thing we should understand is that these illnesses and deaths are preventable! Each year, we strive to bring helpful information about how to survive seasonal weather, and the elements that workers and all of us are exposed to. This spring has already brought extremely hot conditions to parts of the country, and several persons have lost their lives.
Today we are focusing on raising awareness of the risks of working in hot environments to both employers and employees, with the intent of reducing those risks. Everyone should be able to recognize safety and health hazards of working in extreme heat, things that increase the risk of heat-related illness, signs and symptoms of illness, first aid, and preventive measures that decrease the risk of heat-related illness.
When workers are exposed to air temperatures that are warm or warmer than our skin, sweating becomes the primary means of maintaining a constant body temperature. If conditions of high humidity exist, however, the sweat is decreased and it makes it harder for the body temperature to adjust. If employers will allow workers a gradual time to adjust to this hot environment progressively, (about 5-7 days), there should be fewer heat-related illnesses. Those who are not given time to adjust may be more likely to feel the effects of these illnesses. In reality, most of the time, workers are exposed to the heat from Day One. One of the most important things to remember when working in hot conditions is to stay hydrated by drinking water often. Resting in a shady place and working earlier in the day will also improve work conditions. Remember, drinking water on a regular basis puts less strain on the cardiovascular system.
Excessive exposure to a hot environment can bring about a variety of heat-related health problems and illnesses, such as heat cramps, fainting, heat rash and heat exhaustion. An employee that suffers from heat exhaustion may still sweat, but these other signs and symptoms may appear, such as:
- Feeling sick to stomach, vomiting
- Mood changes (confused or irritable)
- Decreased and dark-colored urine
- Light-headedness or fainting
- Pale, clammy skin
Employers must outline the proper personal protective equipment required for their employees to be able to handle the heat. Polarized safety glasses are needed to protect the eyes from UV rays, and if hardhats are part of the PPE, there are cloth neck shields and sunshields that attach to them. Plenty of sunscreen should be used, an abundance of water should be available. Some companies choose Gatorade to help their workers stay hydrated, also.
Tomorrow, we will talk about other ways of preventing heat stress and how to treat a victim of heat exhaustion. In the meantime, stay cool!
Source: Texas Department of Insurance, OSHA