As summer approaches, days not only become longer, the temperature rises to extreme dangerous levels. As some of your team members may work under these extreme conditions, it is important for all individuals to recognize the signs and symptoms of various heat illnesses.
Let's dive into our moment in safety on how to work under extreme heat conditions.
Working in Extreme Heat
When a person works in a hot environment, the body must reduce excess heat. If the body cannot dispose of excess heat, it will store it, causing core body temperature to rise. Excessive exposure to heat can cause a range of heat-related illnesses, including heat exhaustion and heat stroke, and may even lead to fatality.
Working in warm conditions is a definite safety concern. Thousands of workers become sick every year from heat-illnesses due to exposure to heat.
Heat illnesses are preventable if your team members learn to identify the warning signs and take the appropriate precautionary actions.
Ten Tips to Work Safely in the Heat
The best form of protection for heat illnesses is prevention.
Your team should follow a heat illness prevention program, on that includes provisions for providing team members with water, shade and rest; adjusting work schedules as needed; training for team members about the symptoms of heat-related illnesses and prevention; and monitoring workers for signs of illness.
Here are our ten top tips your team should follow to avoid heat illnesses while working under extreme heat.
1- Stay hydrated.
Stay hydrated by drinking small amounts of water frequently. Drink plenty of fluids; drink about 16 ounces before starting and 5 to 7 ounces every 15 or 20 minutes. Don’t wait until you feel thirsty to drink.
2- Avoid dehydrating liquids.
Beverages such as alcohol and caffeine can actually lead to dehydration. So, it is best to avoid them altogether.
3- Wear protective clothing.
Lightweight, light-colored and loose-fitting clothing, and personal protection equipment, helps protect against heat. Change clothing if it gets completely saturated. Clothing made from natural fabrics such as cotton is best.
4- Pace yourself
Slow down and work at an even pace. Know your own limits and ability to work safely in heat. Working too hard in the heat can lead to heat exhaustion. To avoid this, workers should take it slow and pace themselves. If possible, they should avoid working during the hottest part of the day.
5- Schedule breaks
Take time for rest periods and water breaks in a shaded or air conditioned area. Ensure that workers have access to plenty of cool water, shade and a place to rest. Breaks give the body a chance to cool down and reduce the risk of heat-related illness. Workers should take a break at least every 20 minutes to drink fluids, rest in the shade and cool down.
6- Avoid getting sunburn
In addition to wearing the right clothing, workers should also use sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher to protect their skin from the sun’s harmful rays.
7- Monitor your body:
Workers should be aware of the signs and symptoms of heat-related illness, such as headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness and muscle cramps. If any of these symptoms occur, they should take a break, drink fluids and seek medical attention if the symptoms persist.
8- Be aware of heat cramps:
Heat cramps are muscle pains or spasms that can occur during or after exposure to heat. They are usually caused by dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. To treat heat cramps, workers should drink fluids and rest in a cool place.
9- Be aware of heat exhaustion:
Heat exhaustion is a condition that can occur when the body is unable to regulate its temperature. Symptoms include heavy sweating, paleness, muscle cramps, tiredness, weakness, dizziness, headache, nausea and fainting. If any of these symptoms occur, workers should stop working immediately, drink fluids and seek medical attention.
10- Be aware of heat stroke:
Heat stroke is a potentially life-threatening condition that occurs when the body’s temperature regulating system fails. Symptoms include high body temperature, hot, red, dry or moist skin, rapid and strong pulse, headache, dizziness, nausea, confusion and unconsciousness. If any of these symptoms occur, workers should call 9-1-1 immediately and seek medical attention.
OSHA has a nationwide Heat Illness Prevention Campaign - this campaign educates employers and workers on the dangers of working in the heat.
OSHA also has a smartphone application for Android and iPhone. This free heat safety app allows workers and supervisors to calculate the heat index for their worksite, and, based on the heat index, displays a risk level to outdoor workers. You can then select “precautions” and it will give you a list of what you can do based on the current risk level.
Whether at work or play OSHA asks that we remember these three simple words: Water, Rest, and Shade. Taking these precautions can mean the difference between life and death.
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