For those that work outside, the summer months are not always a reason to celebrate. Every year thousands of workers become ill from the extreme conditions they face during the summer season, some leading to fatalities. Although, our summer temperatures might seem to reach new records every year and out of our control, the illnesses and deaths associated with, are under our control.
In 2011, OSHA began its nationwide Heat Illness Prevention Campaign to raise awareness and educate those at risk of the dangers associated with working in the heat. The campaign has gone on to reach 7 million workers and delivered over half a million fact sheets, posters, quick cards, training guides, and wallet cards. With this year’s season still in its infancy, it is important as ever to take a quick look through, and determine if you’re ready for the 2013 summer season.
Am I at risk?
Anyone who works outside under extreme conditions of heat or humidity is at risk of heat illness. These risks can be especially elevated if you’re required to wear heavy clothing, wear large amounts of protective gear, or carry heavy loads throughout your day. If you are new to this environment, you can also be at risk due to your lack of tolerance for the conditions. It’s also important to remember that the combination of any physical activity with rising temperatures and or humidity can cause heat illness, even in the most conditioned worker.
What is heat illness?
Heat illness can be classified into several categories, the most common include: heat cramps, heat rash, heat exhaustion, heat syncope, and heat stroke. While the body normally attempts to cool itself with sweat, in hot or humid conditions this is simply not enough. Body temperatures can rise at an alarming rate, leading to any or all of these heat illness conditions. As soon as any of the symptoms are recognized, it is extremely important to provide immediate medical attention.
Muscle (heat) cramps are associated with long intense sessions of an acute, painful, involuntary muscle contraction. Causes include, lack of fluids or dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, neuromuscular fatigue, or any combination of these.
Heat rash is a condition in which areas of the skin feel prickly or have a stinging sensation. This usually occurs on parts of the body that are covered by clothing and have ventilation problems. Visibly, a heat rash will look like tiny bumps surrounded by areas of red skin.
The two types of heat exhaustion are water depletion and salt depletion. Water depletion signs include excessive thirst, weakness, headache, and loss of consciousness. Salt depletion signs include nausea and vomiting, frequent muscle cramps, and dizziness.
Heat syncope is when someone passes out or faints due to overheating and a lack of water or salt. A sudden lack of blood pressure results in less blood to the brain causing light headiness and possible fainting.
This is the most serious of the categories associated with heat illnesses. A heat stroke generally occurs from a progression of other symptoms and can lead to permanently damaged organs, brain, even death in some cases. Common symptoms include nausea, seizures, confusion, disorientation, loss of consciousness, even coma. Once the body’s core temperature reaches 105 degrees, it is officially classified as a heat stroke.
Prevention Prevention Prevention
In other words: Water, Rest, Shade. These three simple words are the backbone of heat illness prevention. Employers must educate employees on the importance of water intake, frequent breaks, and limiting their time under the direct sun light in order to prevent heat illnesses. These guidelines should be apart of every worksite training sessions and plans. Employers should also take precautions not to rush an employee into the conditions without properly acclimating them first. Helping an employee build a tolerance to the heat gradually can help them avoid an unexpected heat illness. Employees should also be trained in how to spot heat illness symptoms and understand what to do in case they spot one. The quicker one acts, the more likely one will be saved.
Know the heat index
The heat index is a great tool for anyone working outdoors under the hot weather and humidity. Understanding the dangers that accompany specific temperatures and humidity levels can be identified using the heat index. The higher the heat index, the higher the risks and amount of protective measures that need to be in place.
Two primary sources of heat for workers are the environmental conditions they work in and the internal heat generated by physical labor. If you work outside, your should always be aware of the temperatures and conditions for your area. Being prepared with the right information, and using resources like the heat index can be the difference in a successful work day, or a trip to the emergency room.
Less than 91°F
91°F to 103°F
103°F to 115°F
Greater than 115°F
Basic heat safety and planning
Aggressive protective measures needed