The calendar may record the first day of summer as June 21, but Mother Nature has a mind of her own. In the Midwest, we have already broken heat records. While that may be nice if you’re spending the day hanging out at the lake, it can be dangerous for those who work in hot temperatures.
Workers exposed to hot and humid conditions are at risk of heat-related illness, especially those doing heavy work tasks or using bulky or non-breathable protective clothing and equipment. Some workers might be at higher risk than others if they have not built up a tolerance to hot conditions, or if they have certain health conditions.
Heat exhaustion occurs when a person cannot sweat enough to cool the body. It generally develops when a person is physically active outdoors in extreme heat. Symptoms include:
A worker suffering from heat exhaustion should move to a cool place and drink plenty of water.
If symptoms worsen or don’t improve within 60 minutes, take the person to a clinic or emergency room for medical evaluation.
Heat stroke is the result of untreated heat exhaustion. Symptoms include:
Heat stroke is a serious medical emergency that must be treated quickly by a trained professional. Until help arrives, place the worker in a cool, shady area. Cool the workers with cold water or ice, if available. Provide fluids (preferably water) until help arrives.
Preventing Heat-related Problems
Most heat-related problems can be prevented, or the risk reduced. The best way to prevent heat-related illness is to reduce workers’ exposure to heat using a variety of engineering controls. Options include air conditioning, fans, ventilation, work/rest cycles, drinking water often, and providing shade.
Put together an Occupational Heat Exposure program for working in hot temperatures that identifies any jobs with exposure to radiant heat sources, high humidity, direct physical contact with hot surfaces/objects, or strenuous physical activities. OSHA offers the following work practices:
Zywave, Live Well, Work Well, “Surviving The Summer Heat”
J.J. Keller, RegSense, “Occupational Heat Exposure