As the weather becomes warmer it is time to make plans for controlling work hazards from heat and the sun.
Everyone has their own tolerance to working in elevated temperatures. Factors that influence an individual’s heat tolerance include direct sun exposure, humidity, adequate fluid consumption, limited or no air movement, degree of physical exertion, physical conditioning, ongoing health problems, and medications. Some workers may have long-term experience working in elevated temperatures while others may not be accustomed to these conditions. In addition, bulky protective clothing and equipment can make already hot conditions even worse. It is important that every worker know the signs of heat-related illnesses so that appropriate corrective measures can be taken.
Heat stroke is a very serious consequence of overexposure that occurs when the body’s temperature-regulating system fails and body temperature rises above the critical level of 104 degrees Fahrenheit. The signs of heatstroke include stopping sweating, confusion, loss of consciousness, and seizures. Heatstroke is a medical emergency that could possibly result in permanent health problems or death. Medical help should be obtained immediately by calling 911. Until medical help arrives the worker should be moved to a cooler area with shade and as much clothing as possible should be removed. Water should be used to soak the worker’s remaining clothing and cool air should be circulated to speed the cooling process.
Heat exhaustion is also a serious heat-related health problem with symptoms that include headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, irritability, confusion, heavy sweating, and extreme thirst. Workers with a body temperature above 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit are at risk of heat exhaustion. Workers with symptoms of heat exhaustion should be given water to drink in small sips, moved to a cooler area with shade and as much clothing as possible should be removed. Cool water should be applied to the head, face, and neck. The worker should be taken for medical treatment as soon as possible and the worker should not be left alone. If the symptoms get worse call 911 for emergency medical treatment.
Training and supervision are the keys to reducing heat stress exposures. When the work environment cannot be made cooler, workers and supervisors should receive training about heat stress hazards and controls. An ample supply of cool water without any odor or bad taste must be supplied. Workers should drink a medium-sized 6-ounce glass of water every 15 to 20 minutes. Conditioning should be planned by gradually increasing the exposure to heat over a five-day period. New workers and workers returning from an extended absence should be given a 5-day gradual adjustment period. Frequent short breaks in the shade can increase a worker’s tolerance to heat stress. Workers should not eat large meals before working in the heat and avoid caffeine, alcohol, and large quantities of sugar. Workers should wear light-colored, loose-fitting, and breathable cotton clothes in hot environments. Fans are only effective if the heat index combination of temperature and humidity is less than normal skin temperature. Fan speeds above 300 ft. per minute can actually have a warming effect on the surrounding environment.