According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more injuries occur during the summer months than at other times of the year. Seasonal factors ranging from more direct sunlight to higher temperatures can—and usually do—impact the working conditions in industrial settings. Just consider the potential effects of sweaty palms, fogged-up safety goggles, and dehydration. Yet many heat-related illnesses and injuries that lead to workers’ compensation claims are preventable. Here are some tips to keep your workers and workplace safe:
1. Know the risk factors.
OSHA reports that in 2014, 2,630 workers suffered from heat illness and 18 died from heat stroke and related causes on the job. It’s imperative that employers and their management team take necessary precautions to keep workers safe and guard against heat-related occupational injury and illnesses.
One can start by becoming aware of common risk factors:
- High temperatures and humidity
- Radiant heat sources
- Contact with hot objects
- Direct sun exposure
- Limited air movement
- Physical exertion
- Use of bulky or non-breathable clothing and equipment
Also, be aware of which workers are at the highest risk heat-related injury and illness. In addition to people who work in exceptionally hot environments or perform strenuous physical on-the-job activity, workers who are: ages 65 and older; have high blood pressure; are overweight; or who take medications that may be adversely affected by extreme heat need to be especially careful.
For more detail, explore Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—Heat stress and review the NIOSH Criteria for a Recommended Standard: Occupational Exposure to Heat and Hot Environments.
2. Identify the symptoms of heat stress.
Overtaxed, overexposed, and overheated are three physical states workers need to avoid if they want to remain illness- and injury-free. Employers and employees alike need to be able to spot the signs of these common heat-related conditions:
- Heat stroke: confusion; fainting; convulsions; red, hot, and dry skin or excessive sweating; and very high body temperature. This is a medical emergency! Call 911.
- Heat exhaustion: cool, moist skin; heavy sweating; dizziness; headache; weakness; thirst; fast heart beat; and nausea and vomiting.
- Heat cramps: muscle spasms and pain, usually in the abdomen, arms, or legs.
- Heat rash: clusters of red bumps on skin, often appearing on neck, upper chest, and folds of skin.
In most cases, if a worker exhibits any signs of heat-related distress, they should immediately sit or lie down in a shady area and be given cool water. Fans, ice packs, and cold compresses, if available, can help relieve symptoms. Seeking medical attention is usually a good idea, especially if symptoms persist.
Additional insights can be found on OSHA’s Occupational Heat Exposure webpage.
3. Be prepared.
Employers are advised to have a plan in place to effectively manage the risks associated with working in and around the heat. This includes regularly communicating emergency procedures and conducting ongoing employee training to ensure the entire workforce is informed and accountable for maintaining a safe and healthy workplace.
All workers should consider these hot weather best practices for illness and injury prevention—on and off the job:
- Acclimate to being in the heat by gradually increasing exposure to the environment
- Drink water every 15 minutes
- Rest in cool or shaded areas
- Wear protective equipment and/or clothing (e.g. cooling vests, breathable materials, sunglasses with UV protection)
- Conduct self-monitoring and look out for others