We survived July, and are beginning the hottest part of the summer for many locales.  It seems this summer has been especially brutal on those in the northern United States, who are not as accustomed to extreme heat as those in the southwestern states.  There are several types of heat related illnesses, such as

  •          Heat Stress

  •          Heat Exhaustion

  •          Heat Syncope

  •          Heat Cramps

  •          Heat Rash

  •          Heat Stroke

According to the CDC, workers who are more likely to be exposed to extreme heat are:  outdoor workers and workers in hot environments such as firefighters, bakery and restaurant cooks, landscapers, yard workers,  farmers, construction workers, miners, boiler room workers, factory workers, welders, oil field workers, and many others. Workers at greater risk of heat stress include those who are 65 years of age or older, are overweight, have heart disease or high blood pressure, or take medications that may be affected by extreme heat.

Many reports of heat-related deaths of workers have been based on the fact that employers may not have been aware of certain medications that their employees are taking.  Others had simply not taken enough breaks while working in extreme heat, and many had not had enough fluids during the day, especially water, and certain sports drinks that help the body restore lost fluids through sweating.

Recommendations for Employers

Employers should take these very important steps to protect workers from heat stress:

  • Schedule maintenance and repair jobs in hot areas for cooler months.
  • Schedule hot jobs for the cooler part of the day.
  • Monitor workers who are at risk of heat stress.
  • Acclimatize workers by exposing them for progressively longer periods to hot work environments.
  • Reduce the physical demands of workers.
  • Use relief workers or assign extra workers for physically demanding jobs.
  • Provide cool water or liquids to workers.
    • Avoid alcohol, and drinks with large amounts of caffeine or sugar.
  • Provide rest periods with water breaks.
  • Provide cool, shaded areas for use during break periods.
  • Provide heat stress training that includes information about:
    • Worker risk
    • Prevention
    • Symptoms
    • Treatment
    • Personal protective equipment
    • The importance of monitoring yourself and coworkers for symptoms

Recommendations for Workers

Workers should avoid exposure to extreme heat, sun exposure, and high humidity when possible. When these exposures cannot be avoided, workers should take the following steps to prevent heat stress:

  • Wear light-colored, loose-fitting, breathable clothing such as cotton.
    • Avoid non-breathing synthetic clothing.
  • Gradually build up to heavy work.
  • Schedule heavy work during the coolest parts of day, (early).
  • Take more breaks in extreme heat and humidity.
    • Take breaks in the shade or a cool area when possible.
  • Drink water frequently. Drink enough water that you never become thirsty.
  • (If you wait until you become thirsty, you are probably already beginning to dehydrate.)
  • Approximately 1 cup every 15-20 minutes.
  • Avoid alcohol, and drinks with large amounts of caffeine or sugar.
  • Be aware that protective clothing or personal protective equipment may increase the risk of heat stress.
  • Monitor your physical condition and that of your coworkers. 

As employers search for ways to help their employees stay cool, they might want to consider cooling vests.  Once activated, they keep the body cooler for hours.  Ranging in a variety of colors, styles, and prices, these can be a valuable tool to maintain cooler body temperatures.