How to beat the heat
Identify your at-risk workers
New worker risks
New workers are frequently placed in the category of having a high potential for injury. Those new to the workplace will encounter unfamiliar hazards from their job tasks and from their new working environment, especially within the first six months. Young, temporary and seasonal workers are especially the type of novice worker that must receive the proper training to understand workplace hazards and how to avoid them. Key risks for these workers may arise because of their lack of experience or maturity, as well as the lack of confidence to ask for help when they need it.
In the warmer months, the types of jobs that these novice workers seek, more often than not, are jobs that involve being outside in the sun. Outside jobs include construction work, painting and roofing, maintenance and landscaping services, agricultural jobs, and even positions like a camp counselor, amusement park attendant or coach — all of which deal with working in a hot environment and can lead to risk and injury. Indoor jobs with high heat source issues, such as bakeries, commercial kitchens, laundries and factory work, can also attract temporary positions where heat stress training is a necessity.
Heat-related illnesses and injuries
Working operations, like the ones listed above, involve exposure to high air temperatures, radiant heat sources, high humidity, direct physical contact with hot objects, or strenuous activities and pose a high risk for heat stress-related safety and health hazards. These exposures can lead to a number of occupational illnesses and injuries, like heat stroke, fainting, heat exhaustion, heat cramps or heat rashes. To help ward off these potential problems, the body will sweat to keep cool; inadvertently causing dehydration and an added risk to injury that may result in sweaty palms, fogged-up safety glasses, disorientation and dizziness. Burns may also occur as a result of accidental contact with hot surfaces or steam. These accidents impair the worker from completing job tasks, as well compromise their safety and health.
What you can do
Prevention of heat stress is important not just for the novice worker, but for workers of all ages. Employers who are proactive in training their employees to understand heat-related risk factors, how it affects their health and safety, and how it can be prevented will be most successful in preventing illness and injuries. Here is a list of precautionary and proactive measures you should take into consideration when working in a high heat environment:
- Become educated about heat illnesses. As a supervisor, it is important to recognize and be able to treat the signs and symptoms of heat-related illness, such as hot, dry skin, profuse sweating, hallucinations, chills, throbbing headache, high body temperature, nausea, clammy, moist skin, pale or flushed complexion, muscle cramps, etc.
- Teach employees how to dress appropriately for the weather conditions. Wear cool, comfortable, breathable clothing such as cotton in hot environments. This includes a hat and sunscreen when working outdoors.
- Provide plenty of fluids; do not wait until an employee asks for water, be proactive in keeping everyone hydrated. Remember, employers are responsible for providing drinkable water.
- Make sure your employees avoid alcoholic and caffeinated beverages or drinks with large amounts of sugar like soda. They tend to cause dehydration and will make your employees more susceptible to heat illnesses.
- Have your workers perform the heaviest work during the coolest part of the day.
- Make sure to tell your workers that if they are feeling ill to let a supervisor know right away.
- Prepare an emergency plan in the event a heat-related illness occurs with any of your workers.
Heat stress awareness efforts like these are crucial, especially for the young, seasonal or temporary worker, to create a safer and more knowledgeable work environment. Now is the time to implement heat stress precautions and procedures into your safety strategy as the warmer months — and more job opportunities — will soon be upon us.
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“Heat Stress.” NIOSH Workplace Safety and Health Topic. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 19 July 2011. Web. 7 Feb. 2012. <http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/heatstress/>.
“Heat Stress.” Safety and Health Topics. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Web. 7 Feb. 2012. <http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatstress/>.
“Heat Stress Fact Sheet.” Environmental Health & Safety. Princeton University, 8 Feb. 2007. Web. 7 Feb. 2012. <http://web.princeton.edu/sites/ehs/heatstress/heatstress.htm>.
“Young People at Work.” HSE: Information About Health and Safety at Work. Health and Safety Executive. Web. 08 Feb. 2012. <http://www.hse.gov.uk/youngpeople/about.htm>.