KEEPING Your Cool
As the temperatures start rising so does the potential for heat stress on the job. This can affect most workers who are outdoors during peak sun and heat hours, including road construction crews, oil & gas teams, restaurant patio staff, roofers, firefighters, farmers, miners and landscapers. But even those who don’t work outside, such as welders, bakers and factory workers, are susceptible to the dangers associated with higher temps and humidity.
Let’s review how heat-related illnesses can present themselves, as well as how employers can prepare their teams for summer work and keep productivity on track.
Recognize the Signs
When it comes to working in hot summer conditions, there is uncomfortable and then there’s unsafe. Workers can become overheated from two primary sources: the environmental conditions in which they work and the internal heat generated by physical labor. Weather conditions are the primary external heat source for outdoor workers. Knowing what to look for when it comes to heat stress is crucial. Types of heat-related illnesses that can strike workers include:
- Heat exhaustion – Occurs when the body has lost an excessive amount of water and salt. Some symptoms include headache, nausea, dizziness and elevated body temperature.
- Heat cramps – Excessive sweating depletes the body’s salt levels, which can cause muscle cramps, pains and spasms.
- Heat rash – Also associated with excessive sweating, heat rash is a skin irritation that can look like small, red blisters.
- Heat syncope – Workers who stand for a prolonged period or suddenly rise from a sitting position may faint or have episodes of dizziness.
- Heat stroke – The most serious heat-related illness happens when the body can’t control its temperature and is unable to cool down. Confusion, loss of consciousness and seizures are common symptoms.
- Sunburn – Skin that is exposed to the sun without proper sunscreen will burn quickly. Sunburns can cause long-lasting damage to the skin.
As a good rule of thumb, reference the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) recommendations for treating these illnesses should they occur on the job site.
Minimize the Impact
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) doesn’t have specific standards for workplace heat exposure; however it does state that employers are responsible for providing workplaces free of known safety hazards, which includes protecting workers from extreme heat. An employer with workers exposed to high temperatures and full sun should establish a complete heat illness prevention program. These actions can serve as starting points:
- Before starting the workday, check the heat index for adjusted temps and monitor weather reports and advisories.
- Provide workers with enough water to stay hydrated and allow plenty of breaks throughout the day.
- Workers should have access to shade or areas with a fan or air conditioning.
- OSHA also stresses the importance of acclimating new employees into an outdoor schedule. It usually takes about six to seven days for a body to build a tolerance for working in the heat but could take longer.
- A safety manager or another appointed employee should regularly monitor workers for signs of illnesses and stress.
- Make sure everyone is trained on emergency responses and prevention such as proper hydration, reporting symptoms and administering first aid.
- A fully stocked first aid kit should be accessible should any injuries or illnesses occur.
- As tempting as it may be, don’t compromise with PPE apparel. Rolling up sleeves or forgoing a layer can leave wearers exposed to other hazards. Instead, choose FR workwear that features fabric that feels lighter and cooler.
- For summer uniforms, go with polos, pants and shorts that are breathable and feature moisture wicking to help keep cool.
Use Your Tools
In addition to heat illnesses, exposure to heat can also mean a higher risk of injuries because of sweaty hands, foggy safety glasses and burns from hot surfaces. With proper training, preparation and resources, workers will have a safer and less disruptive summer work environment.
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