Keep Workers Safe as Temperatures Soar

At the height of the summer months, with temperatures edging up in to the 90s, it is a good time to remember that those who work outside in the elements or in hangars without climate control need to be careful about heat-related illnesses. OSHA has guidance on their website about the various kinds of heat-related illnesses. Below are some guidelines not only about what to look for but how to prevent them and how to treat them.

Additionally, OSHA and the CDC have teamed up to create an app for both Android and iPhone that lets you have safety information regarding heat available whenever and wherever it’s needed. The 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. Then, with a simple “click,” reminders can be set about the protective measures that should be taken at that risk level to protect workers from heat-related illness. These include reminders about drinking enough fluids, scheduling rest breaks, planning for and knowing what to do in an emergency, training on heat illness signs and symptoms, and monitoring each other for signs and symptoms of heat-related illness. Click here to get the Heat Safety Tool app.

Below are excerpts from the OSHA website that are worth reviewing as temperatures climb:

Heat-related Illnesses and First Aid

Heat stroke, the most serious form of heat-related illness, happens when the body becomes unable to regulate its core temperature. Sweating stops and the body can no longer rid itself of excess heat. Signs include confusion, loss of consciousness, and seizures. Heat stroke is a medical emergency that may result in death! Call 911 immediately.

Heat exhaustion is the body’s response to loss of water and salt from heavy sweating. Signs include headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, irritability, thirst, and heavy sweating.

Heat cramps are caused by the loss of body salts and fluid during sweating. Low salt levels in muscles cause painful cramps. Tired muscles—those used for performing the work—are usually the ones most affected by cramps. Cramps may occur during or after working hours.

Heat rash, also known as prickly heat, is skin irritation caused by sweat that does not evaporate from the skin. Heat rash is the most common problem in hot work environments.

The chart below shows symptoms and first aid measures to take if a worker shows signs of a heat-related illness.

Illness Symptoms First Aid*
Heat stroke
  • Confusion
  • Fainting
  • Seizures
  • Excessive sweating or red, hot, dry skin
  • Very high body temperature
  • Call 911

While waiting for help:

  • Place worker in shady, cool area
  • Loosen clothing, remove outer clothing
  • Fan air on worker; cold packs in armpits
  • Wet worker with cool water; apply ice packs, cool compresses, or ice if available
  • Provide fluids (preferably water) as soon as possible
  • Stay with worker until help arrives
Heat exhaustion
  • Cool, moist skin
  • Heavy sweating
  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Light headedness
  • Weakness
  • Thirst
  • Irritability
  • Fast heart beat
  • Have worker sit or lie down in a cool, shady area
  • Give worker plenty of water or other cool beverages to drink
  • Cool worker with cold compresses/ice packs
  • Take to clinic or emergency room for medical evaluation or treatment if signs or symptoms worsen or do not improve within 60 minutes.
  • Do not return to work that day
Heat cramps
  • Muscle spasms
  • Pain
  • Usually in abdomen, arms, or legs
  • Have worker rest in shady, cool area
  • Worker should drink water or other cool beverages
  • Wait a few hours before allowing worker to return to strenuous work
  • Have worker seek medical attention if cramps don’t go away
Heat rash
  • Clusters of red bumps on skin
  • Often appears on neck, upper chest, folds of skin
  • Try to work in a cooler, less humid environment when possible
  • Keep the affected area dry
* Remember, if you are not a medical professional, use this information as a guide only to help workers in need.

 

 

Prevention

Most heat-related health problems can be prevented, or the risk of developing them can be reduced. For indoor environments, refer to the information below.

Engineering Controls

The best way to prevent heat-related illness is to make the work environment cooler. A variety of engineering controls can reduce workers’ exposure to heat:

  • Air conditioning (such as air-conditioned crane or construction equipment cabs, air conditioning in break rooms).
  • Increased general ventilation.
  • Cooling fans.
  • Local exhaust ventilation at points of high heat production or moisture (such as exhaust hoods in laundry rooms).
  • Reflective shields to redirect radiant heat.
  • Insulation of hot surfaces (such as furnace walls).
  • Elimination of steam leaks.
Work Practices
  • Employers should have an emergency plan in place that specifies what to do if a worker has signs of heat-related illness, and ensures that medical services are available if needed.
  • Employers should take steps that help workers become acclimatized (gradually build up exposure to heat), especially workers who are new to working in the heat or have been away from work for a week or more. Gradually increase workloads and allow more frequent breaks during the first week of work.
  • Workers must have adequate potable (safe for drinking) water close to the work area, and should drink small amounts frequently.
  • Rather than being exposed to heat for extended periods of time, workers should, wherever possible, be permitted to distribute the workload evenly over the day and incorporate work/rest cycles.
  • If possible, physical demands should be reduced during hot weather, or heavier work scheduled for cooler times of the day.
  • Rotating job functions among workers can help minimize overexertion and heat exposure.
  • Workers should watch out for each other for symptoms of heat-related illness and administer appropriate first aid to anyone who is developing a heat-related illness.
  • In some situations, employers may need to conduct physiological monitoring of workers
Personal Protective Equipment

Workers should be aware that use of certain personal protective equipment (e.g., certain types of respirators and impermeable clothing) can increase the risk of heat-related illness.

In some situations, special cooling devices can protect workers in hot environments:

  • In some workplaces, insulated gloves, insulated suits, reflective clothing, or infrared reflecting face shields may be needed.
  • Thermally conditioned clothing might be used for extremely hot conditions; for example:
    • A garment with a self-contained air conditioner in a backpack.
    • A garment with a compressed air source that feeds cool air through a vortex tube.
    • A plastic jacket whose pockets can be filled with dry ice or containers of ice.

Extreme Heat Alerts

OSHA has partnered with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on weather service alerts. NOAA’s alerts are based on a “heat index” that indicates how hot it really feels when relative humidity is factored with the actual air temperature. This information can help workers and employers take precautions in a timely way to prevent heat-related illness.

Workers and supervisors should be trained about the hazards of heat exposure and their prevention. Topics should include:

  • Risk factors for heat-related illness.
  • Different types of heat-related illness, including how to recognize common signs and symptoms.
  • Heat-related illness prevention procedures.
  • Importance of drinking small quantities of water often.
  • Importance of acclimatization, how it is developed, and how your worksite procedures address it.
  • Importance of immediately reporting signs or symptoms of heat-related illness to the supervisor.
  • Procedures for responding to possible heat-related illness.
  • Procedures to follow when contacting emergency medical services.
  • Procedures to ensure that clear and precise directions to the work site will be provided to emergency medical services.

To see all the information at the OSHA website click here. Stay safe everyone!