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The Heat is On – Protect Yourself

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It’s been a long winter – and a cold spring, but summer is just around the corner, which means hot weather is on its way. For the many people exposed to higher temperatures as part of their job duties, it’s time to review how to prevent heat-related illnesses (HRI’s). Every year, thousands of workers in the United States suffer from serious HRI’s, which if not addressed can quickly turn from heat exhaustion to heat stroke, which has killed on average 30 people every year since 2003. Jobs that are at a higher risk of HRI’s include, but are not limited to, firefighters, bakery workers, farmers, construction workers, miners, boiler room workers and factory workers.

You might wonder how does excessive heat affect the body? Our bodies usually maintain a stable internal temperature by circulating blood to the skin and through sweating, but when the outside temperature is close to or even warmer than normal body temperature, sweat may not be able to evaporate, so it’s less effective. If the body cannot get rid of the excess heat, it stores it, which causes an increase in core temperature and heart rate. If the body continues to store heat, you begin to lose concentration and have difficulty focusing, you may become irritable or sick and lose your desire to drink. The next stage is most often fainting and even possibly death. The body temperature can rise to 106 degrees or higher within 10 to 15 minutes!

Five Categories of Heat-Related Illnesses

  1. Heat Rash – caused by skin being constantly wet from sweat and plugged sweat glands (raised, red blistery rash)
  2. Heat Cramps – caused by excessive loss of water and electrolytes, with cramps occurring in the legs and abdomen
  3. Heat Syncope – caused by prolonged standing or sudden rising from a sitting or laying position (includes fainting or dizziness)
  4. Heat Exhaustion – symptoms are pale skin, excessive sweating, headache, nausea and vomiting, blurred vision and dizziness, with the potential for fainting
  5. Heat Stroke – symptoms are dry hot skin and a very high body temperature, skin is red but without sweat, and the person is incoherent or unconscious

Preventative Actions to Protect Employees

  • Train and educate workers and supervisors on risk factors and early warning signs of HRI’s
  • Provide cool drinking water near work areas and promote regular hydration before feeling thirsty
  • Monitor temperature and humidity levels near work areas – incorporate a variety of engineering controls that can reduce workers’ exposure to hear including air conditioning, increase general ventilation, cooling fans, local exhaust ventilation, reflective shields to redirect radiant heat, insulation of hot surfaces, and elimination of steam leaks
  • Implement a heat management program, so everyone knows what to do in the event of an emergency
  • Allow workers to distribute the workload evenly over the day, to rotate job functions and incorporate work/rest cycles, including if possible to allow heavier work scheduled for cooler times of the day
  • Use the “buddy system” to monitor worker conditions
  • Use safety supplies such as special cooling devices when using certain personal protective equipment
  • Acclimate workers by exposing them for progressively longer periods of time to hot work conditions

Hot Weather Safety Tips for Employees

  • Stay hydrated – drink plenty of fluids
  • Avoid dehydrating liquids, including alcohol, coffee, tea and caffeinated soft drinks
  • Wear lightweight, light-colored and loose-fitting clothing when possible
  • Pace yourself and schedule frequent breaks in a shaded or air-conditioned area
  • Use a damp rag to wipe your face or put around your neck
  • Avoid direct sun and getting sunburnt – use sunscreen and wear a hat
  • Be alert for signs of HRI’s
  • Eat smaller meals – eat fruits high in fiber and natural juices and avoid high protein foods
Mr. Griffith has a received his bachelors degree in Environmental Health from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. He is a Certified Industrial Hygienist and president of Workplace Safety & Health Company. He has over 35 years of industrial hygiene, safety, loss control and consulting experience. Chemical monitoring, noise measurement, program development and management, risk assessment and computer management of health and safety data are areas of particular strength. Mr. Griffith is a member of the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) at the local and national level. He is also active in the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE).

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