Heat Illness and Prevention

heat illness prevention

Spring has finally arrived and with it comes hotter temperatures, especially as we move forward into Summer. According to OSHA, “Most outdoor fatalities, 50% to 70%, occur in the first few days of working in warm or hot environments because the body needs to build a tolerance to the heat gradually over time.” Millions of workers are exposed to heat while on the job, so let’s take the time to review ways to prevent heat-related injuries.

Build Up Your Tolerance 

Workers who have not spent time recently in warm or hot environments and/or being physically active will need time to build tolerance (acclimatize or, less frequently used, acclimate) to the heat. During their first few days in warm or hot environments, employers should encourage workers to:

  • Consume adequate fluids (water and sports drinks)
  • Work shorter shifts,
  • Take frequent breaks, and
  • Quickly identify any heat illness symptoms.

Know the Types of Heat Illnesses

Knowing the symptoms of the different types of heat illnesses can help you better identify when you or someone you’re working with is overheating.

  • Heat Stroke
    • Confusion and slurred speech
    • Unconsciousness
    • Seizures
    • Heavy sweating or hot, dry skin
    • Very high body temperature and rapid heart rate
  • Heat Exhaustion
    • Fatigue and irritability
    • Thirst
    • Nausea or vomiting
    • Dizziness or lightheadedness
    • Heavy sweating, elevated body temperature, or fast heart rate
  • Heat Cramps
    • Muscle spasms or pain (usually in legs or arms)
  • Heat Syncope
    • Fainting or dizziness
  • Heat Rash
    • Clusters of red bumps on the skin (often appears on the neck, upper chest, and skin folds)
  • Rhabdomyolysis (muscle breakdown)
    • Muscle pain
    • Dark urine or reduced urine output
    • Weakness 

First Aid

OSHA’s Medical Services and First Aid standard and the Medical Service and First Aid in Construction require the ready availability of first aid personnel and equipment. First aid for heat-related illness involves the following principles:

  • Take the affected worker into the shade or air conditioning 
  • Cool the worker immediately with active cooling techniques such as:
    • Immerse the worker in cold water or an ice bath. This is the best method to cool workers rapidly in an emergency.
    • Remove outer layers of clothing, especially heavy protective clothing.
    • Place ice or cold wet towels on the head, neck, trunk, armpits, and groin.
    • Use fans to circulate air around the worker.
  • Never leave a worker with heat-related illness alone in case the illness rapidly becomes worse.
  • When in doubt, call 911!

Heat-related illnesses can have a substantial cost to workers and employers. Employers should have a plan in place for heat-related incidents and employees should actively keep that plan in place. Heat illness can contribute to decreased performance, lost productivity due to illness and hospitalization, and possibly death.

Be proactive in your safety measures and remind employees of seasonal safety tips. At ResponsAble, we believe having well-trained, high-quality, experienced safety professionals on a job site is the best way to cultivate a positive safety culture. Give us a call at 225-753-1909 to talk with us about your upcoming projects.

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