Heat-related illness doesn’t just happen, it’s preventable even if the temperature outside isn’t. Employees in some of our nation’s largest industries have an increased heat illness exposure including:
- Healthcare employees working in homes without air conditioning
- Loading dock workers
- Heavy manufacturing
Preventing heat-related illness isn’t complicated or expensive. Read more for some solutions.
Types of heat-related illness:
Heat cramps are caused by a loss of salt, can occur in the legs and arms, and are associated with weakness, sweating and light-headedness.
Heat exhaustion occurs when the body tries to cool itself, and is accompanied by profuse sweating that leads to red, dry skin. Additional indicators are nausea, vomiting, weakness and rapid, thread pulse. This stage often leads to a more serious condition—heat stroke.
Heat stroke is a sign that the body is beginning to shut down. Unconsciousness follows and skin becomes red, dry and hot. Breathing is shallow and pulses are bounding and strong. If left untreated, death will follow.
Employees should know:
- Hydration best practices; one cup of water every 15 to 20 minutes. Employees should not drink more than 12 quarts of water a day.
- Caffeine, alcohol and sugary drinks (including sports drinks) increase the risk of dehydration.
- Where they can access drinking water at all times.
- How often they will take rest breaks.
- The warning signs of heat-related illness for themselves and coworkers.
- What to do when a heat-related illness is suspected.
- Proper clothing for working in the heat and sun.
- How to contact emergency services.
- Evaluate which employee activities expose them to sustained heat and then create an action plan for heat-related illness prevention.
- Equip manufacturing environments with roof vents, fans, misting devices and portable air-conditioners.
- Provide home health aides with portable, personal fans that can be taken from home-to-home, or even left in the home if need be.
- Scrutinize overtime. Overtime work spent in the heat and sun could also mean that an employee could be suffering from fatigue.
- Provide drinking water, and make sure drinking water containers are clean and refreshed every 24 hours.
- Keep an eye on employees. Take note of employees who are continuously drinking sugary sodas or caffeine on the job site. Remind them that it could lead to a lack of hydration, resulting in a heat-related illness.
- Consider scheduling additional rest breaks.
- Consider altering summer work hours, to avoid work in extreme heat.
- Provide an area for cooling. The first rule for treating heat-related illness is to remove the person from the heat exposure. Have cool packs, drinking water and a cool space available, to include an air-conditioned vehicle or room.
When the proper precautions are taken, employees should never have to experience heat-related illness. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration now provides a Heat Safety App for both Android and iPhone operating systems that helps employers calculate the current heat index and risk level and then provides a list of the appropriate safety precautions. Review some of these heat-related illness resources before your next safety meeting: