Weather conditions can have a significant effect on our well-being and safety. A combination of heat, humidity, and strenuous physical activity can lead to dangerous outcomes when the body is unable to cool off by sweating. Heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat rash, cramps, and heat illness are examples of heat-related outcomes that can result in death. Fortunately, heat-related deaths are preventable when the symptoms and causes are understood and acted upon quickly.
Most common heat-related illnesses:
• Symptoms: Fatigue, profuse sweating, weak and rapid heartbeat, headaches, nausea, confusion, loss of coordination, muscle weakness, dizziness, or fainting.
• Causes: Dehydration, lack of acclimatization to high temperatures, strain on the circulatory system, and reduced blood flow to the brain.
• First aid: The affected individual must rest in a cool, shaded or air-conditioned area. Cool the affected individual by fanning, misting with water, or applying ice packs. Give cool (not cold) water only if the individual is conscious.
• Symptoms: Core body temperature exceeding 104° F, hot skin with a lack of perspiration, strong and rapid pulse, nausea, confusion, dizziness, seizures or convulsions, or fainting.
• Causes: Heat exhaustion was left untreated and the body’s cooling mechanisms have been exhausted.
• First Aid: Heat stroke is immediately life-threatening. Notify a supervisor and follow the emergency action procedure. While waiting for medical personnel to arrive, the individual giving care should provide the same first aid measures as those for heat exhaustion. In addition, loosen or remove heavy clothing if necessary.
General Controls: The best way to prevent heat illnesses is to make the work environment cooler.
• Provide shaded areas large enough to accommodate all employees during meal, rest, or recovery periods. This can be achieved through rotation of employee breaks.
• Provide shaded areas and drinking water as close as feasible to work areas.
• Provide employees with one quart of water minimum per hour for the entirety of shift.
• Use fans or air-conditioning if possible.
• Employees should wear lightweight, light-colored, and loose-fitting clothing.
• Urge employees to avoid consumption of alcohol, caffeinated drinks, and heavy meals.
• Acclimatize employees to heat by having them work for short periods of time and gradually increase their time in the heat over a two-week period.
• Train employees to recognize symptoms in themselves and others and report them.
In addition to heat illness, prolonged sun exposure can also result in permanent skin damage if consistently left unprotected. Outdoor workers are especially at a higher risk of developing skin cancer, along with other ailments.
According to a survey by the Deb Group, a skin care company, over 8,500 people in the U.S. contract skin cancer on a daily basis. And 71 percent of employees that work outdoors claim that their employers fail to provide sunscreen in the workplace.
To prevent skin cancer and sun damage, wear protective clothing including long sleeves and hats, use sunscreen that is SPF 30 or higher, and have a yearly mole check.
Succeed Management Solutions, LLC offers a Heat Stress Prevention online training course that describes the precautions to help protect employees from heat illnesses. Other related resources include toolbox talk documents on topics of: Basics of Heat Stress, Heat Illness, and a Heat Illness Prevention Plan. A safety video is also available on 5 tips for Protecting Employees from Heat Stress.