Protecting Workers in Excessive Heat Conditions
The past few years have been some of the highest temperatures on record. Although the humidity and temperatures are rising, outdoor jobs and projects must still be completed. Any construction, landscaping, or other physical laborious tasks can cause workers to be at a high risk of catching heat stroke and other heat related illnesses.
It is important to understand what heat stroke is, how to spot the symptoms, what to do in the event of heat stroke, and (most importantly), how to prevent it. Heat stroke is considered a medical emergency and can cause brain damage. In some cases, it can be fatal. Please call 911 in the event of a heat related illness.
Heat stroke is commonly caused by the combination of prolonged exposure to high temperatures and dehydration. Your body reaches a core temperature of 104 F and begins to effect the nervous system. It often progresses from milder symptoms.
Signs and Symptoms of Heat-Related Illness
- Muscle weakness or cramps
- Confusion or dizziness
- Flushed skin
- Rapid, shallow breathing
- Racing heat rate
- Loss of coordination
- Nausea and vomiting
If someone around you is experiencing these symptoms from excessive heat, it is imperative that you help treat them within 30 minutes. Immersing the patient in ice water is the best course of action. If you do not have that available, bring him/her to a shady area, fan them, and pour ice or water on their body. The basic principal here is to decrease their temperature as rapidly as possible.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), high risk conditions are when the heat index is between 103 and 115 degrees F. If the outside temperature/working conditions are within this frame, please use caution and follow these tips for prevention of heat stroke:
- Alert workers and educate
- Be sure to educate your workers on heat-related illness symptoms and signs, the corresponding safety procedures, who to call in the event of an emergency, etc.
- Provide plenty of cool drinking water – have them drink small amounts often
- Make sure it stays cool in a shady area and is visible and easily accessible to the workers. OSHA states the workers should drink about 4 cups of water every hour.
- Accommodate a healthy work/rest schedule
- Be sure to allow for breaks often – it may take longer to get the job done, but safety is always number one priority. Provide shaded areas for the breaks. Perhaps even implement a rotation system among the workers.
- Adjust work levels/time if possible
- If it is possible to do the more physically laborious tasks earlier in the day, schedule to do so.
- Encourage protection
- Tell your employees it would be a good idea to wear hats and sunscreen
It is better to avoid heat stroke than to treat it. The key is to spread awareness and take precaution when the conditions are dangerous. Work needs to be completed, but not at the risk of peoples’ safety. Be sure to follow these guidelines if you have jobs or projects in the excessive heat.