Working in high temperatures can increase the risk of on-the-job injuries from heat stress. There are a variety of heat stress-related illnesses that can impact workers’ health and their ability to perform their jobs safely. Employers have a duty to their workers to help prevent heat stress to avoid serious health problems and even fatalities. It is vital for businesses to design a heat stress prevention program to protect workers from heat stress illnesses and injuries.
What Are Heat Stress Illnesses?
Heat stress occurs when a person is exposed to high temperatures for extended periods. In the workplace, this can affect both indoor and outdoor workers. During the summer, outdoor workers may be exposed to hot temperatures and need extra protection from heat stress illnesses and injuries. Indoor workers can be exposed to high temperatures due to steam, hot equipment and limited ventilation. When the body becomes too hot, a variety of heat-related illnesses can occur, including:
- Heat Stroke- symptoms include confusion, profuse sweating, hot skin, seizures, coma and death
- Heat Exhaustion- symptoms include headache, dizziness, nausea, weakness, irritability and thirst
- Rhabdomyolysis- symptoms include muscle pain or cramps, dark urine, weakness and exercise fatigue
- Heat Syncope- symptoms include dizziness, fainting and light- headed feeling, especially when rising from lying or sitting
- Heat Cramps and Heat Rash
Prevention of Heat Stress
Employers should be aware of the risks of heat stress and how to prevent illnesses and injuries. Exposure to high temperatures is not the only factor that can put workers at risk of heat stress. Other risk factors include heavy or physical labor, not enough hydration, protective clothing and humidity levels. Some workers are also more prone to heat stress, like those who are older, have certain health conditions or are not climatized to working in high temperatures.
Working in high temperatures cannot always be avoided, but there are heat stress prevention methods that can reduce risks of heat-related illnesses and injuries. OSHA recommends these heat stress prevention methods for workers exposed to hot temperatures for extended periods of time:
- Provide easy access to cool water for hydration – workers in high heat environments should drink a pint of water per hour
- Allow frequent breaks in cooler areas (shade, air-conditioned spaces, etc.)
- Train supervisors and employees on signs and symptoms of heat stress (dizziness, confusion, fainting, vomiting, etc.)
- Carefully monitor those at higher risk for heat stress
- Consider protective clothing – outdoor workers should wear lightweight, light-colored, loose clothing
In the Gulf Coast area, summer temperatures and high humidity can put workers at risk for heat stress illnesses and injuries. Our team at SafetyPro Resources offers employee safety training, as well as safety staffing for short and long-term projects. Contact us today to learn how to reduce your safety risk for heat stress illnesses and injuries at your Gulf Coast business.