Every year, thousands of workers across the country suffer from serious heat-related illnesses as recorded by OSHA. If not quickly addressed, heat exhaustion can become heat stroke, which has killed – on average – more than 30 workers annually since 2003. Labor-intensive activities in hot weather can raise body temperatures beyond the level that normally can be cooled by sweating. Heat illness initially may manifest as heat rash or heat cramps, but quickly can become heat exhaustion and then heat stroke if simple prevention steps are not followed.
Although we all love the summer months and the weather it brings, working long, physical days in the hot conditions are not always enjoyable. To ensure jobsite safety and keep everyone in peak condition, here are some tips to keep your workers cool.
Keeping Hydrated on the Jobsite
The number one way to avoid heat illness and to keep cool on the jobsite is through hydration. It seems obvious but workers still need to be reminded to drink water not just when they’re thirsty but at least 8 ounces every 15 min. when temperatures rise.
Drinks that contain caffeine such as coffee and energy drinks should be avoided as caffeine is a diuretic and will lead to dehydration and fatigue. Smoking in hot weather also dehydrates the body and affects skin temperatures.
It’s common to hit an afternoon slump in energy after lunch, and even more so when working in hot temperatures. The best way to avoid this is to eat a bigger breakfast earlier in the morning to allow for a lighter lunch. Consuming junk food of any kind will take longer to digest and will zap your energy. Workers need avoid fatigue and to be alert at all hours of the day especially when working around machinery, and being careful with what they eat is an important part of doing that.
In the heat of the summer when the days are longer, rescheduling work hours can be very beneficial. Starting earlier in the morning when it is cooler and finishing early afternoon can prevent worker burnout and heat related illnesses. Organizing the more physically demanding tasks for the cooler morning hours will help keep the energy levels up for later in the day for the less gruelling tasks.
Seek the Shade
Keeping cool can be difficult in the summer months, so seek out shade whenever possible, use umbrellas or take breaks in shaded areas. Even with a tan or dark complexion the UV rays are still harmful and the sun can still cause one to overheat and can lead to fatigue. Sun block should be applied in the morning and reapplied at lunch to protect from the sun. Thin long sleeves and bandanas can help protect from the direct sunlight and sweat. Wide brim vented hats are the best choice for keeping the sun off of your head whilst keeping it cool.
Watch for Heat Illness
Watch employees (especially new ones) for signs of fatigue and heat illness as it usually takes about one week for the body to adjust to hot conditions.
The usual progression of heat illness is heat exhaustion to heat cramps followed by heat stroke. Symptoms of heat stroke include dry, hot skin with no sweating, mental confusion, loss of consciousness, seizures and convulsions. If you notice any of these symptoms in yourself or a colleague, lie down in the shade or a cooler area with feet elevated above the heart. This allows blood to flow to the brain more easily and decreases cardio loading. Remove work boots and if possible get some fans going to lower body temperature and provide evaporative cooling. In case of unconsciousness, call 911. Knowing the signs is the first step to help you and others avoid heat illness.
Educate your Team
OSHA also has released a free application for mobile devices that enables workers and supervisors to monitor the heat index at their work sites. The app displays a risk level for workers based on the heat index, as well as reminders about protective measures that should be taken at that risk level. Available for Android-based platforms and the iPhone, the app can be downloaded in both English and Spanish by visiting http://s.dol.gov/RI.
Organize a toolbox talk for your company before the heat hits to educate everyone on the dangers of heat illness and what they can do to prepare to for a cool, successful, and productive summer.