Even though OSHA does not have a specific standard for heat stress, employees are protected under the General Duty Clause of the OSH Act because heat-related illnesses are a serious hazard. The General Duty Clause states that employers are required to “provide a place of employment free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to its employees.” Persons who work either outdoors, or indoors in hot buildings, seem to have accidents more often than in moderate temperatures. If a person becomes overheated, the effect may be mental confusion, tiredness, and irritability. These conditions can result in poor judgment and unsafe practices.
Yesterdays’ installment discussed the causes of heat-related illness and symptoms to watch for. These are ways that employers can protect their employees:
- Train all employees to know the signs and symptoms and how to respond;
- Schedule the hardest work during the coolest part of the day;
- Encourage the buddy system; (working in pairs)
- Furnish cool water and ask employees to drink one cup every 15 to 20 minutes; also encourage them to wear light-colored, loosing fitting clothing;
- Reduce radiant heat by placing shields around hot machines or furnaces;
- Discourage employees from eating large meals or consuming caffeine before and during work in hot environments;
- Increase the amount of insulation on furnace walls;
- Open windows and doors;
- Use exhaust ventilators or air blowers;
- Lower humidity levels by installing exhaust hoods over areas that release moisture; and
- Provide tools and equipment that reduce physical demands on employees.
Here are several ways to treat victims of heat exhaustion:
- Provide cool water to drink;
- Move them to a cool, shaded area;
- Fan the person;
- Cool the skin with a wet cloth;
- Loosen and remove heavy clothing;
- If he/she is dizzy, lay victim on his/her back and raise their legs 6” to 8”.
- If she/he is nauseated, lay victim on his/her side.
- Stay with the victim.
- Call for emergency help if the victim doesn’t feel better in a short time. If heat exhaustion is not treated, the illness may advance to heat stroke, the most serious heat-related illness. Signs of a heat stroke are:
- Dry pale skin (no sweating);
- Hot red skin;
- Mood change, (confused, irritable)
- Seizures, fits.
Prompt first aid for someone suffering the symptoms of heat stroke should include the same first aid for heat exhaustion, plus: Call for emergency help; lay victim on his/her back unless he/she is unconscious; remove any objects close by if victim has a seizure; provide cool water to drink if conscious; and place ice packs under armpits and in the groin area.
Employees are at increased risk for heat-related illness when they:
- Are dehydrated or fatigued.
- Use improper work methods;
- Have infrequent exposure to hot temperatures and high humidity;
- Are over the age of 40;
- Use certain medications (antihistamines, diuretics, and some tranquilizers)
- Are in poor physical condition or overweight;
- Have used drugs/alcohol within the past 24 hours prior to working in the heat;
- Have heat rash or sunburn;
- Have had prior heat-related illnesses;
- Wear too much or restrictive clothing.
If you happen to have a heat-related incident or if a co-worker experiences any of the symptoms we have described, this knowledge is invaluable. For those supervisors who are fortunate to work in an air-conditioned atmosphere, do all you can to keep your employees as safe and comfortable as possible. In a building, large fans will at least circulate the air.
Source: OSHA, Texas Department of Insurance