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Most of the United States has been experiencing hotter than usual summer temperatures lately. Employers need to stay alert for signs of heat related illnesses in all workers – both outdoors and indoors.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends that employers establish a heat-related-illness prevention program that includes advising workers to:
• drink plenty of water,
• acclimatize to weather conditions,
• alternate schedules between work and rest breaks.
NIOSH specifically extends this guidance to outdoor workers in agriculture, construction and other industries that expose workers to heat stress caused by great exertion and environmental heat, which can lead to severe illness or death.
Employees who work indoors aren’t immune to the effects of high temps. Compromise should be reached as to how to set the office thermostat. In a 2003 memo, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, (OSHA) recommended “temperature control in the range of 68-76 degrees Fahrenheit and humidity control in the range of 20-60 percent.”
Yes, there’s an App for that
OSHA has issued a free app for Android-based mobile devices and iPhone devices that enable workers and supervisors to monitor the heat index at their worksites. English and Spanish versions are available; download the app at https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatillness/heat_index/heat_app.html
Heat Stress Defined
Heat stress can be brought on by internal body heat generated by exertion (hard physical labor) and environmental heat arising from working conditions.
Contributing factors to heat stress include:
• Moderate to high air temperature, particularly with high humidity.
• Direct sun exposure.
• Heavy clothing.
• Lack of adequate water, rest periods and cooling-off conditions.
“Workers who are new to a worksite or returning from an absence of four or more days should gradually increase their workload and heat exposure over a week,” NIOSH recommends. “When a spike in temperature or a heat wave occurs, workers lose their acclimatization to the environment, and the risk of heat stress increases.”
Recognize heat stress
Persons affected by heat stress exhibit one or more symptoms:
• Rapid, shallow breathing
• Slurred speech, loss of coordination
• Elevated body temperature
• Throbbing headache
• Chills, muscle cramps
• Hot, dry skin with no sweating
What You Can Do
NIOSH recommends that employers establish a heat-related-illness prevention program that includes the following measures:
• Training for supervisors and workers to prevent, recognize and treat heat-related illness.
• Implementing a heat-acclimatization program for workers.
• Providing for and encouraging proper hydration.
• Establishing work-rest schedules that are appropriate for heat-stress conditions.
• Ensuring access to shade or cool areas.
• Monitoring workers during hot conditions.
• Providing prompt medical attention to workers who show signs of heat-related illness.
• Evaluating work practices continually to reduce exertion and environmental heat stress.
• Monitoring weather reports daily and rescheduling jobs that require high heat exposure to cooler times of the day.
Workers are advised to:
• Be well hydrated before arriving at the job site, and stay hydrated during the workday.
• Eat during lunch and other rest breaks. Food helps replace lost electrolytes.
• Wear light-colored, loose-fitting, breathable clothing made of materials such as cotton.
• Wear a wide-brimmed hat when possible.
• Take breaks in the shade or a cool area when possible.
• Be aware that protective clothing or personal protective equipment may increase the risk of heat stress.
• Monitor their physical condition and that of co-workers.
• Tell their supervisor if they have symptoms of heat-related illness.
• Talk with their doctor about medications they are taking and how those may affect their heat tolerance.
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