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OSHA's Tips for Dealing With the Heat

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

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Summer is heating up, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has issued some tips for dealing with increasing temperatures.

During the warmer weather, construction is one of the top industries impacted by heat illness. In 2014, 2,630 workers came down with heat illness, and 18 died from heat stroke and other causes, according to OSHA.

Employers must provide workplaces that are free of known hazards, and this includes protection from excessive heat. A key component to this being a successful practice is having a heat illness prevention program in place.  For this type of program, OSHA’s recommendations are as follows:

  • Provide workers with water, rest and shade.
  • Allow new or returning workers to gradually increase workloads and take more frequent breaks as they acclimatize, or build a tolerance for working in the heat.
  • Plan for emergencies and train workers on prevention.
  • Monitor workers for signs of illness.

During the warmer weather, construction is one of the top industries impacted by heat illness. In 2014, 2,630 workers came down with heat illness, and 18 died from heat stroke and other causes.

According to OSHA, working in full sunlight can increase heat index values by 15 degrees Fahrenheit. Those most susceptible to heat illness are: any worker consistently exposed to hot/humid conditions, especially when it comes to heavy labor wearing bulky clothing or using heavy equipment; new workers; temp workers; or those who have had a week or more off. During a heat wave, everyone is at risk.

There are three primary types of heat illness to watch out for: heat stroke, heat exhaustion and heat cramps.

Heat stroke occurs when the body is unable to regulate its temperature. Left untreated, it can cause death or permanent disability. Common symptoms are: high body temperature; loss of coordination; confusion; hot, dry skin; or profuse sweating and/or throbbing headache. The most effective treatment options are moving the worker to a cool, shaded area, and removal of excess clothing so cool water can be applied to the body.

Heat exhaustion, on the other hand, is the body’s response to the excessive loss of water and salt, which can occur from sweating. Symptoms include: heavy sweating, rapid heart beat, extreme weakness/fatigue, irritability and dizziness. Treatment options include also resting in a shaded area, drinking plenty of cool water and taking a cool shower or bath, if possible.

Finally, heat cramps most often affect workers who are doing strenuous activity in a hot environment. Symptoms are usually limited to muscle cramps or pain in the arms, abdomen and/or legs. Effective treatment requires immediate cessation of activity, and sitting in a cool, shaded place; rehydrating with water and resting for a few hours after the cramps subside. It is advised to seek medical assistance if: cramps do not stop in one hour, the person also suffers from heart problems or they are on a low-sodium diet.

As the days continue to heat up, preventative measures are recommended. Wearing light-colored clothing, scheduling heavy work for the coolest parts of the day, drinking water every 15 minutes and having workers gradually build up to doing heavy work in the heat can all help keep heat illness at bay.


Tagged categories: Good Technical Practice; North America; OSHA; OSHA; Regulations

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