EHS OutLoud Blog

If You Can’t Stand the Heat…

Guest blogger Aaron J. Morrow is a safety consultant, an OSHA 500 trainer, a Cal/OSHA 5109 trainer and a construction risk insurance specialist.

If You Can’t Stand the Heat…

by Aaron J. Morrow

Most of us have heard the phrase, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” This expression is attributed to President Harry S. Truman, who apparently used it in 1949 when his staff was being criticized. Perhaps you’ve used this phrase as a playful insult in times of competition, such as sporting events or game nights with friends (Catch Phrase can get brutal) to suggest that if you can’t handle the pressure, move aside and let someone else step up.

OSHA, meanwhile, has a different view of this “handling heat” idea. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of that hot environment, take a shaded break, drinks lots of water and monitor yourself and fellow employees for heat illness symptoms. This makes more sense considering the vast amount of jobs that require employees to work outdoors in the sun or indoors where there is poor air circulation. That is why OSHA has launched its Campaign to Prevent Heat Illness in Outdoor Workers.

Every year, thousands of workers in the United States are exposed to excessively hot and humid work environments. These jobs range from construction and mining sites, all the way to employees who work in bakeries or commercial kitchens. Many of these workers will experience some sort of heat-related illness, usually as a result of heat exhaustion. Of course, if heat exhaustion isn’t addressed in a timely manner, it can turn into a heat stroke, which can be deadly. It is believed that over 30 workers died last year due to heat stroke.

Heat illness symptoms are an onset of the body’s inability to cope with heat. Your body naturally wants to maintain a core temperature, which it generally accomplishes through sweating. But during extended exposure to hot weather and humidity, this isn’t enough. Your body temperature can rise to a very dangerous level.

According to OSHA’s general duty clause, employers are responsible for the health and safety of their employees and must “furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.” Employers can do this by providing training about heat stress and prevention; provide cool water for workers; scheduling regular rest breaks in the shade; continuously monitor employees for change in physical and/or mental status; scheduling work during cooler times of the day; being conscious of new or employees returning from a long break who may not be acclimatized yet; and having a plan in place in case of a heat-related emergency situation.

Workers should be able to recognize the different stages of heat illness (heat rash, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, heat stroke) and the symptoms associated with heat stress. For example: headache, nausea, extreme thirst, dizziness, fainting, altered mental status or extreme sweating. In the case of a heat stroke, the individual may stop sweating in hot environments. If you recognize any of these signs, you need to take action.

If you feel someone is suffering from a heat-related illness, immediately call your supervisor. For serious conditions, call 911 or your local emergency response. In the meantime, get the person out of the heat, remove outer clothing, cool the individual off and provide cool drinking water, if they’re able to drink.

While we can’t avoid working outdoors, we can help protect ourselves and our workers from experiencing injury, illness and possibly death from heat-related hazards.

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