Beating the Heat: Summer Workplace Safety


While many of us welcome the warmer temperatures at this time of year, summer heat presents a safety hazard in many workplaces. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has stepped up their monitoring and enforcement of workplace hazards related to heat stress in recent years.

We tend to think of construction sites as the main focus of heat-related risk, and while heat stress is common in construction and other outdoor trades like landscaping and farming, indoor workers can be susceptible also. While OSHA has no official rule on workplace temperatures, some states require that special attention be paid to any indoor environment at 80 degrees or greater. So if your business has a warehouse or other non-climate-controlled space, your workers may be at risk.

Heat stress is further complicated in many industries by the requirement to wear certain clothing, safety equipment or PPEs. A worker in coveralls and a hardhat is more susceptible to heat issues than one in short sleeves.

Safety begins with planning ahead. Understand that productivity might suffer as workers require longer or additional breaks from the heat, and that newer workers might need time to acclimatize to conditions and job requirements.

Bear in mind also that not everyone responds the same way to heat stress, and that certain people may be more susceptible to illness. Obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and even certain medications may cause an employee to handle heat stress less effectively. The use of alcohol or illicit drugs can also contribute to a negative response.

Employees should be made aware of the dangers of heat stress, and of best practices to prevent them. Lightweight, loose-fitting clothing is best when possible. Hydration is a must; workers should keep drinking water before they feel thirsty.  Cooling down with damp sponges or washcloths will help maintain a lower body temperature, as will taking frequent breaks out of the sun.

There are three types of heat emergencies, each progressively more serious: heat cramps, heat exhaustion or heatstroke.

Muscle pain and tightness can signal heat cramps. Those suffering from heat exhaustion might additionally experience dizziness, mild confusion, headache, rapid heart rate or breathing, nausea or vomiting, heavy sweating or fainting. Heatstroke can present those symptoms as well, but may involve a body temperature of 104 degrees or greater, hallucinations or irrational behavior, seizures or loss of consciousness.

If you suspect heatstroke, call 911 immediately. For heat cramps or heat exhaustion (and while you wait for emergency help with heatstroke), move the victim out of the sun to a cooler area if possible. Loosen clothing, apply cool, wet cloths to the face, neck, head and limbs, and give drinks of cool water or sports drinks (but not if the victim is vomiting or unconscious, and not too much at once). For heatstroke, apply ice to the wrists, underarms and groin.

Train your team on best practices to avoid heat-related illnesses, and on recognizing and treating the symptoms, and have a safe summer season.

Questions about heat safety or other safety issues? Contact Heart to Beat.

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