Staying Safe on the Job During Hot Weather
As we head into summer, many industries, such as agriculture, landscaping, and construction, are entering their peak work season. People who work in these industries are starting to spend long days working outside, doing very physically demanding work in increasingly hot temperatures. During the summer months, it’s essential for anyone who spends a great deal of time working outside, including letter carriers, lifeguards, amusement park employees, and people who do home repairs, to take steps to stay safe on the job and avoid heat related illnesses such as heat stroke and heat exhaustion.
Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are not to be taken lightly. A worker suffering from heat exhaustion won’t be able to focus on their job as well as they normally would and if their job involves operating heavy equipment or machinery, it’s becomes more likely that the worker or a co-worker will be involved in an accident. Heat stroke can be deadly and several workers needlessly die on the job because of it every year. Even in non-fatal cases, heat stroke can cause major organs to shut down and result in damage to the heart, liver, kidneys, nervous system, and muscles.
Workers who aren’t used to working in the heat, such as if they’re new to the job or returning from an extended break, are the most likely to be stricken with a heat-related illness. In 2005, nearly half of the heat-related illnesses investigated by Cal/OSHA involved workers who were on the job for their first day and 80% of the cases involved workers who had been on the job four days or less. It’s very important to become acclimatized to working in the heat. OSHA recommends encouraging workers to work at a steady, moderate pace and having new workers start with lighter workloads and gradually increasing them as they adjust to working in the heat. Under normal circumstances, a person can get used to working in the heat in 5-7 days, but it can take up to two weeks if there are medical issues involved.
It’s important to note that even workers who have been working in the heat for a while can still be susceptible to heat illnesses during heat waves or if it gets exceptionally hot. During heat waves, it’s recommended to lighten workloads to 50% on the first day of the heat wave and gradually increase those every day afterwards.
Heat related illnesses can be prevented by drinking water every 15 minutes, whether you’re thirsty or not. Workers should have a shaded area where they can rest and cool down. Be sure to wear hats and lightly colored clothing to help stay cool. Keep an eye on your fellow workers to make sure they aren’t over-exerting themselves or exhibiting any signs of a heat related illness. OSHA has a list of specific precautions that should be taken depending on the temperature.
Some of the symptoms of heat exhaustion include dizziness, headaches, nausea, thirst, weakness, wet skin, irritability, and general weakness. Medical attention should be sought right away if a person faints, has become confused, or is vomiting. A person suffering from heat stroke may be confused and unable to think clearly, stop sweating altogether, pass out or collapse, or start having seizures.
If you see a co-worker with these symptoms, alert your supervisor right away to get medical attention. Move the person to a cooler area, give them water as long as they aren’t vomiting or losing consciousness, and do anything you can to cool the person off such as by loosening their clothing, using ice packs, or fanning them.