Training and Preparation Can Prevent Heat Related Illness in the Workplace
Extreme temperatures are common in the summers and early fall, and the heat can lead to serious heat-related illnesses like heat stroke. In some industries where employees work outdoors in fields or construction jobs, avoiding heat sickness requires employers to prepare in advance. Being prepared can prevent heat-related illness and increase employee safety during the hot season.
Designate an Employee to Supervise Heat Conditions
The best way to avoid heat-related illness is to create a policy for workers that addresses hot weather precautions. The policy should cover permissible work/rest cycles, and give guidance on work hours and break frequency. It also includes the assignment of a supervisor to oversee and implement the company’s heat prevention plan.
A person in this position should be capable of recognizing early signs of heat stress and contacting emergency medical services promptly if needed. Any person with the right training can do this, such as a foreman, plant manager or job-site supervisor.
Provide Water and Shade
Drinking cool water should be a priority for employers. A proper hydration regimen is essential for preventing heat-related illness. In addition, employees who work more than two hours should have access to electrolyte-containing fluids.
The need to drink water should not be driven by thirst. Keep your workers hydrated throughout their shifts by encouraging them to drink frequently. Those working in hot conditions should drink at least one cup or 8 ounces of water every 20 minutes, regardless of whether they are thirsty.
Workers in hot environments should also have access to shade, rest areas, and other facilities that promote their comfort and reduce fatigue. A good ventilation system is essential to prevent employees from overheating in these places.
Train Employees to Recognize the Symptoms of Heat-Related Illness
Employers should train all employees to recognize symptoms of heat-related illnesses before they become serious problems. The symptoms can range from mild to life-threatening.
- Heat cramps are the first sign of heat sickness. Generally, cramps occur in the hands, calves, feet, thighs, or arms. They are characterized by feelings of tightness, tension, and discomfort.
- Heat rash can appear as clusters of red bumps on the skin. This condition occurs on the neck, the upper chest, and the skin folds.
- Heat exhaustion is caused by dehydration and an increased body temperature. An individual who is suffering from heat exhaustion may experience nausea, dizziness, cramps, presyncope, headaches, fatigue, and excessive sweating.
A heat stroke can cause confusion, slurred speech, and unconsciousness. When a person suffers a heat stroke, they may have seizures, heavy sweating, and a rapid heartbeat. With a fatality rate of up to 71%, heat strokes are one of the most serious medical emergencies. Therefore, it needs immediate medical attention.
Take Frequent Breaks as Needed
Workers should take breaks whenever the heat increases according to OSHA’s Determination of Whether the Work is Too Hot section. Breaks should last long enough for workers to recover from the heat. The length of a break depends on the worker’s risk factors and lifestyle. The CDC notes certain people are at risk of suffering from heat-related illnesses:
- Older people 65 years and older
- Overweight people
- Those who overexert themselves at work
- Workers with physical illnesses, such as heart disease or high blood pressure
- People taking medications for depression, insomnia, or poor circulation
The supervisor should monitor employees at risk for heat exhaustion or heat stroke at least twice daily. Strictly enforce policies requiring employees to take breaks or limit their exposure to hot environments during work hours. Although some workers may be tempted to forgo breaks, doing so is dangerous in hot weather. Employers should ensure that employees take all necessary breaks.
Use Cooling Personal Protective Equipment
Cooling devices are a special type of personal protective equipment (PPE) that keep workers cool in hot environments. They can be worn by themselves or as part of a full ensemble of protective clothing. Workers can use reflective clothing, face shields that reflect infrared light, and neck wraps for cooling. In addition, if the weather is hot enough, they can wear vests equipped with vortex tubes. Another option is to wear jackets with pockets holding reusable ice packs or phase change cooling packs.
Don’t Wait to Take Action if You See a Co-worker With Symptoms
A company can train employees to contact emergency medical services if they see a coworker suffering from a heat-related illness. Employees can use cold water and ice bath to cool their coworker’s skin. If needed, they can also remove their clothes and use a fan. If their coworker does not cool down quickly, they should seek medical attention immediately.
Prepare Your Company for the Heat
Don’t let yourself or your employees suffer from heat sickness – it can be prevented. If your organization has employees working in conditions that put them at risk for heat-related illnesses, you can defend against those risks by implementing preventative measures. Implementing heat training to all workers can promotes worker safety and health and minimize the risks.