Operations don’t stop when the temperatures start soaring. When your workers are expending energy for long periods of time or exposed to excessive heat during the summer, you need to ensure you’ve taken all the necessary steps to protect them from heat illness.
Dangerously hot work environments aren’t reserved for the outdoors, either. In fact, indoor workplaces are some of the worst offenders for workers. The CDC reminds us that some workers are at greater risk for heat stress and illness, like those “65 years of age or older, are overweight, have heart disease or high blood pressure, or take medications that may be affected by extreme heat.” Recognize the symptoms and results of different heat illnesses and what should be done for someone suffering from it.
Heat Stroke is the most serious heat-related illness and happens when the body can no longer self-regulate and rises to critical levels of 104 degrees or higher. This is a medical emergency and can result in death. Signs of heat stroke include lack of sweating, nausea and vomiting, confusion, rapid breathing, slurred speech, a racing pulse, flushed skin, loss of consciousness, and seizures. Call 9-1-1 immediately if you notice possible signs of heat stroke.
Heat Exhaustion is also a serious health problem with symptoms of headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, clammy skin, heavy sweating, muscle cramps, rapid pulse, confusion, and irritability. Workers experiencing heat exhaustion should immediately be removed from heated areas and given fluids to drink, preferably water. Cold compressions to the neck and face can help as will rinsing these areas with cold water.
Heat Cramps are caused by loss of salt in the body due to sweating. Ease heat cramps by replacing fluids lost with water and electrolyte-filled liquids every 10 to 15 minutes.
Heat Rash is most common in hot work environments and shows as a reddish cluster of small blisters or pimples, sometimes around the neck, upper chest, elbow creases, groin, and under the breasts. Provide a cooler, less humid work area and apply powder to help comfort. Do not use cream or ointment on heat rash as it may worsen the rash.
There are measures you should take as an employer to ensure your workforce is well-equipped to work in high-heat environments. Read some of the Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA) tips:
Proactively Identify Hazards
Rather than waiting for potentially dangerous scenarios, find potential heat hazards that may affect your crew and jobsite: temperatures, humidity levels, sun, and other thermal exposures, clothing and PPE, work type and demand, and personal risk factors such as age or health.
Provide Proper Hydration
Make sure cool drinking water is not only available but easily and clearly accessible to everyone on the jobsite. Encourage hydration: a liter of water every hour, or one cup every fifteen minutes. Remember that caffeine and alcohol can prompt dehydration.
Ensure a fully shaded or air-conditioned area for your workers to rest or cool down. This can make the difference between heat exhaustion and heat stroke – and simply offers respite during the hottest hours.
Help your workforce understand the dangers of heat illness and the steps they can take to prevent (insert our own blog post link for associates) heat-related health problems and how to respond in the event that symptoms arise.
The body takes time to build tolerance of working in heat. Give workers the opportunity to get used to the temperature by allowing frequent breaks, time to drink water, and physically cool down. Full acclimatization can take up to 14 days and even longer, dependent on the individual. Gradually increase workloads and heat exposure so your team stays healthy and happy and the job gets done.
You may want to consider altering work schedules, if possible, to reduce heat exposure and allow more time for physically demanding tasks during cooler times of day. You might pause non-essential outdoor work until the weather cools or schedule less physically demanding tasks during the warmer hours. Make sure you’re giving your workforce flexibility to hydrate well, cool off when needed, and take note of their health throughout their shift.
As your staffing partner, PeopleReady Skilled Trades has the goal of safety for each one of our associates is vital in ensuring the health of workers and the results on your jobsite. We are here as a safety resource and urge education and training across each of our branches. As OSHA states, “Workers have the right to working conditions that do not pose a risk of serious harm, to receive information and training about workplace hazards and how to prevent them.” For more information about workers’ rights, visit their worker page.