First, when one’s body is unable to cool itself by sweating, according to OSHA, several heat-induced illnesses such as heat stress or exhaustion and the more severe heat stroke can occur, and can result in death. Factors leading to these conditions include high temperatures; being in direct sun or heat; limited air movement; physical exertion; poor physical condition; some medicines; and, inadequate tolerance for hot workplaces.
“Heat and humidity can be a serious safety threat to all workers during the summer – from lifeguards; to agriculture, construction and roadway workers,” ASSE President Darryl C. Hill, PhD, CSP, said today. “People should think twice if they begin to feel these symptoms and act quickly.”
Headaches, dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting; weakness and moist skin; mood changes such as irritability or confusion and upset stomach and vomiting are symptoms of heat exhaustion.
Symptoms of heat stroke include dry, hot skin with no sweating; mental confusion or losing consciousness; and, seizures or convulsions.
To prevent heat stress officials suggest that you monitor co-workers and yourself. Prevention efforts include blocking out direct sun or other heat sources; using cooling fans or air conditioning; and, to rest regularly. It is also important to drink lots of water, about one cup every 15 minutes; and, to wear lightweight, light colored, loose-fitting clothes. It is recommended that if in the sun to avoid alcohol, caffeinated drinks and heavy meals. According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), heat can also cause injury due to accidents related to sweaty palms, fogged up glasses and dizziness. Sunburns are also a hazard of sun and heat exposure. Suggested tips for employees and employers to use in order to prevent heat-related illnesses and injuries include:
- Use cooling pads that can be inserted into hardhats or around the neck to keep the head and neck cool. Vented hardhats or neckbands soaked in cold water can also be used to minimize prolonged heat exposure and prevent the body from overheating.
- Wear protective eyewear that features sufficient ventilation or anti-fog lens coating to reduce lens fogging from the heat. Sweatbands can also be used to prevent perspiration from dripping into the eyes.
- Use gloves with leather palms and cotton or denim backs, which allow for an increased airglow and still protect hands. Also, choose gloves with a liner to absorb sweat preventing perspiration buildup. Some gloves also feature strips of nylon mesh or are perforated at the back of the hand for more airflow.
- Wear light-colored, loose-fitting, breathable clothing such as cotton, recommends OSHA.
- Take breaks in cooler shaded areas.
- For workers exposed to extreme heat, proper hand protection from burns depends on the temperature and type of work to which workers are exposed.
- To prevent dehydration, another hazard associated with exposure to heat, NIOSH recommends that workers drink five to seven ounces of fluids every 15 to 20 minutes. Drink cool water and avoid diuretics such as coffee, tea, alcohol or soda that actually deplete body fluid. Sports drinks are also good for replacing fluid in the body but use should be monitored due to the high sodium content.