With summer now in full force, it’s important for those who regularly work outdoors to understand the risks of potential heat stress and heat stroke. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety Health Administration has developed a new mobile application that allows workers and employers at job sites calculate the heat index for their job site and determine the risk level to their workers.
“With a simple “click,” [workers] get reminders about the protective measures that should be taken at that risk level to protect workers from heat-related illness-reminders about drinking enough fluids, scheduling rest breaks, planning for and knowing what to do in an emergency, adjusting work operations, gradually building up the workload for new workers, training on heat illness signs and symptoms, and monitoring each other for signs and symptoms of heat-related illness.” (OSHA.gov)
According to OSHA’s website, working in full sunlight increases heat index values by 15 degrees Fahrenheit.
Workers in outdoor agriculture, construction, public service (including firefighters, postal workers, etc.), and other industries are at a higher risk for heat stress, exhaustion or heatstroke when they are exposed to high temperatures and humidity. Exposure to extreme heat can increase instances of sweaty palms, fogged safety glasses, dizziness and burns, resulting in mistakes that could cause additional injury.
Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are serious heat-related disorders. Heat exhaustion is a bodily response caused by loss of water and salt in the body, usually a result of excessive sweating.
Symptoms of heat exhaustion include:
- Heavy sweating
- Extreme weakness or fatigue
- Dizziness or confusion
- Clammy or moist skin
- Pale or flushed complexion
- Muscle cramps
- Elevated body temperature
- Fast and shallow breathing
Workers suffering from heat exhaustion should rest in a cool, shaded, or air-conditioned area, drink plenty of water or other cool (non-alcoholic) beverages and be sprayed with water.
Heat stroke is the most serious heat disorder and occurs when the body is no longer able to control its temperature, and its sweating mechanism (used to cool the body) fails. When heat stroke occurs, the body’s temperature the body’s temperature can ride to 106 degrees or higher, and may cause permanent disability and even death if emergency treatment is not administered. Symptoms of heat stroke include:
- Hot, dry skin or profuse sweating
- Throbbing headache
- High body temperature
- Confusion or dizziness
- Slurred speech
Workers who suspect they are suffering from heat stroke, or those witnessing someone showing symptoms of heatstroke should immediately call 911 and notify their supervisor. The victim should be moved to a cool shaded area, where steps should be taken to cool the worker down; such as soaking his or her clothes in water, spraying him or her with water, and fanning his or her body.
PREVENTING HEAT STROKE
Both workers and employers share a responsibility to prevent heat stroke. Workers who know they will be exposed to extreme temperatures, long periods of sunlight, and high humidity should take the following steps to prevent heat stress:
- Wear light-colored, loose-fitting, and breathable clothing such as cotton, and avoid wearing synthetic material.
- Schedule strenuous work for cooler periods during the day.
- Take frequent breaks in the shade or cool area when possible.
- Drink water frequently (approximately 1 cup of water every 15-20 minutes)
- Avoid dehydrating liquids such as alcoholic beverages, caffeine, and other sugary drinks that cause dehydration.
- Be aware that protective gear and clothing may add to the risk of heat stress.
According to OSHA standards, employers are responsible for ensuring their workers work in safe environments and are protected against potential hazards. Employers should take the following steps to prevent workers from heat stress:
- Schedule jobs for cooler part of the day, and schedule construction jobs in cooler months, if possible.
- Acclimatize workers to hot work environments by exposing them for progressively longer periods in the heat.
- Reduce physical demands of workers in extreme heat.
- Use relief workers or assign extra workers to jobs.
- Provide cool water and liquids to workers.
- Provide rest periods with frequent water breaks.
- Monitor workers who are at risk for heat stress: workers who are 65 years and older, those who are overweight, have heart disease or high blood pressure, or take medications that may be affected by extreme heat.
While employers and supervisors are responsible for ensuring save working environments, this does not always happen.
If you or a loved one suffered an injury while at work, call one of the experienced Boston Workers’ Compensation Attorneys at Altman & Altman, LLP to discuss filing a potential workers’ compensation claim. Workers’ compensation law guarantees benefits to workers who are hurt on the job—even if it was the worker who caused the accident. In Massachusetts, workers’ compensation benefits include coverage of medical costs, disability payments, 60% of your average income, compensation for permanent injuries, vocational retraining and death benefits for immediate family members if the worker was killed on the job.
For more information about heat-injuries and to download the app, visit OSHA.gov.