Heat stress is a common issue for people who work in hot environments or work outside. The risk of heat exhaustion from exposure to hot equipment or doing very strenuous work activities can cause or increase the risk of experiencing severe heat-related illnesses like heat exhaustion and heat stroke..
There are five types of heat-related illnesses to watch out for:
- Sunburn – painful, red and warm skin; skin blisters
- Heat Cramps – heavy sweating during exercise, muscle pain or spasms
- Heat Rash – sticky skin, redness, or itching
- Heat Exhaustion – severe sweating with cool and dry skin, thirst, weakness, and pain
- Heat Stroke – Dehydration, confusion, slurred speech, headaches, rapid heartbeat, seizures, coma, death
Severe cases can cause death if not treated properly, so action needs to be taken quickly. If someone is experiencing heat-related distress, have them remove or loosen clothing. Let them drink fluids with electrolytes, sit or lie down, and apply cold wet compresses. Seek medical attention immediately and dial 911 if symptoms do not improve or worsen.
Make employees aware of heat illnesses
OSHA requires employers to protect workers from heat stress because the effects of heat stress can be severe.
Employers should train employees to recognize signs of heat stress in themselves and in others, know what protective actions to take and understand how to follow their company’s policies and procedures. They should understand the importance of drinking plenty of water, taking breaks in the shade, and dressing appropriately in hot environments.
Employees can monitor the heat index and learn occupational safety and health recommendations using a mobile app like this NIOSH Heat Safety Tool App.
Wear personal protective equipment (PPE) during heat stress
PPE should always be considered a last resort, but when no other solution is available, it provides essential protection. Employees should purchase PPE that are reflective and insulated such as hard hats, gloves and coveralls if they need to be around point heat sources such as furnaces. When chemical protection is not required for the PPE, breathing materials may be an option for improving air circulation.
Maintain a well-ventilated and cool work environment
You should use air conditioning besides other large outdoor equipment. Fans paired with water misters help to lower worker body heat when air conditioning is insufficient. Portable fans with built-in air-coolers may also be effective.
Cooking and laundry equipment, which can generate warm air, can be vented to let in cooler air. Using simple, reflective shields, such as shades and tarps, can also work well indoors and outdoors.
OSHA provides more guidance on keeping a cool, ventilated work environment for all employees. When you do all the above, you can help your employees stay healthy during the hot summer months.