Heat illness prevention on the jobsite
On some jobs, exposure to heat is difficult to control. The resulting heat illness and heat-related accidents can be very serious – even fatal. Both are most likely to occur among those who have not been given time to adjust to working in heat or who have been away from hot environments.
When you work in a hot environment, your body attempts to maintain a normal temperature. The hotter it is, the harder your body has to work to stay cool. When the body has absorbed more heat than it can dissipate, illness can occur. Under normal circumstances, your body will adjust to heat in four to 14 days.
Treatment for heat illness
Heat rash occurs in hot, humid climates when sweat remains on the skin for long periods. If the rash is extensive or complicated by infection, it can be very uncomfortable. Rest in a cool place during breaks to allow your skin to dry.
Heat cramps are painful muscle spasms that occur when you sweat profusely. Drink large quantities of water or other cool beverages and rest in a cool, shady place.
Heat exhaustion results from excessive sweating in hot working conditions. Someone with heat exhaustion continues to sweat and experiences extreme fatigue, giddiness, nausea, headache, and even unconsciousness. The skin will be clammy and moist; the complexion, pale or flushed; and the body temperature, normal or slightly elevated. Rest in a cool area and drink plenty of liquids. A severe case of heat exhaustion can require treatment for several days.
Heat stroke is the most serious heat illness. When sweating is no longer adequate to cool the body, the body temperature can soar to 105 degrees F or higher, and you can become confused or delirious and lapse into convulsions or unconsciousness. The skin will feel hot and dry, and appear red or spotted. Anyone with symptoms of heat stroke must get immediate first aid to prevent permanent brain damage or death. Move the victim to a cool area, soak the clothing with water and vigorously fan the body to cool it. Hospitalization should follow.
Illness is not the only safety issue created as temperatures soar. Heat also promotes accidents. Sweaty palms, dizziness and hot metal surfaces can be hazardous, but other less obvious dangers also contribute to the frequency of accidents.
Hot environments lower mental alertness and physical performance, which can lead to accidents. In addition, increased body temperature and discomfort promote irritability and anger, which can cause workers to overlook safety procedures.
How to work safely in heat
Some states have passed legislation that requires employers to have formal written company policies on working in heat. For example, in California, law requires employers to provide a written company heat illness prevention procedure to all employees and to Cal/OSHA.
The policies must include how employers will comply with heat illness standards, respond to symptoms of possible heat illness, contact emergency medical services to transport employees to a location where they can be reached by an emergency medical service provider and provide emergency responders with clear directions to a site, if necessary.
Check with your state or locality to determine if a heat illness prevention regulation is in place.
For your protection
Before work begins, drink water until you feel full. Then for the rest of the day and as often as every 15 minutes, drink another cup of water or sports drink.
- A recent study on hydration found four critical electrolytes are lost through sweat in a constant ratio to one another. POWERADE’s new formula, with the ION4 Advanced Electrolyte System, replaces all four electrolytes at the same ratio they are typically lost when you sweat, plus it has B-vitamins.
- Work in shade whenever possible and take regular breaks to cool down by resting in a shady or air-conditioned area.
- Wear light-colored, loose-fitting, breathable clothing, if work rules allow. Sweat-soaked clothes cool you better than bare skin. Wear a hat with a wide brim.
- If possible, do the heaviest work during the coolest part of day.
- Eat smaller meals before work and avoid caffeine, alcohol and large amounts of sugar.
- Consult your health professional about working in the heat if you are on medication. Many medications and diseases interfere with the body’s ability to regulate temperature and dissipate heat, increasing the likelihood of heat related illness or accident.
— By Pam Sturgess