It’s best not to work outside in high temperatures – that is a fact – but the nature of certain jobs, such as construction, forestry, manufacturing or landscaping sometimes make this unavoidable. When this happens, a worker’s body temperature can rise to dangerously high levels and put them at risk of serious health complications. Normally, the human body cools itself off through sweating. However, in hot and humid weather, sweating is often not enough to regulate body temperature and heat illness can occur.
Employers have a duty to take every reasonable precaution to protect their workers. Under the General Duty Clause, the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) of 1970, employers are required to provide a workplace free of potential hazards that can cause or are likely to cause death or serious harm to employees, including heat-related hazards. Policies and procedures should be in place to protect workers in outdoor environments during the summer or in extreme heat. and both employers and employees should be trained on heat illness and general safety practices that can make a world of difference when it comes to protecting them from the heat.
Protecting yourself and others
- Ease Into Work
Nearly 3 out of 4 fatalities from heat illness happen during the first week of work. Both new and returning workers need to build tolerance to heat and acclimatize themselves slowly. If you’re unsure, follow the 20% rule: on the first day, work no more than 20% of the shift’s duration at full intensity. Increase the duration of time at full intensity by no more than 20% until you’re used to working in the heat.
- Drink cool water
Even if you’re not thirsty, it’s crucial to stay hydrated. One cup of water every 20 minutes is the minimum recommended amount to stay cool in extreme heat.
- Dress for the heat
Wear a hat and light-colored, loose-fitting and breathable clothing if possible.
- Watch out for each other
Monitor yourself and others for signs of heat illness. If you’re required to wear face coverings, change them if they become wet or soiled. Verbally check on others frequently.
- Find shade or a cool area to rest
Take breaks in a designated shady or cool location.
- Take breaks often
Take enough time to recover from heat given the temperature, humidity and conditions.
First Aid for heat illness
The following are all signs of a medical emergency! If you or anyone around you experience these symptoms, call 9-1-1 immediately, stay with the worker until help arrives, and cool the worker right away with water or ice.
- Abnormal thinking or behavior
- Slurred speech
- Loss of consciousness
Watch for any other signs of heat illness and act quickly. When in doubt, call 9-1-1. If a worker experiences any of the following, they may also be in danger of a medical emergency:
- Headache or nausea
- Weakness or dizziness
- Heavy sweating or hot, dry skin
- Elevated body temperature
- Extreme thirst
- Decreased urine output
If you’re treating anyone with a heat-related illness, do whatever you can to keep them cool. Give them cool water to drink and, if possible, cool them down with water or ice. Remove any unnecessary clothing and never leave them unattended as the situation could become worse. Be sure to provide your employees with ample resources on sun and heat illness prevention, such as this page on the OSHA website.
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