When one’s body is unable to cool itself by sweating, according to OSHA, several potentially fatal heat-induced illnesses such as heat stress, heat exhaustion and the more severe heat stroke can occur. 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,” said ASSE President Darryl C. Hill, Ph.D., CSP. “People should think twice if they begin to feel these symptoms and act quickly.”
Symptoms of heat exhaustion include headaches, dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting; weakness and moist skin; mood changes such as irritability or confusion; and upset stomach or vomiting.
Symptoms of heat stroke include dry, hot skin with no sweating; mental confusion or losing consciousness; and seizures or convulsions.
Heat stress prevention efforts include blocking out direct sun or other heat sources; using cooling fans or air conditioning; and resting 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. While in the sun, avoid alcohol, caffeinated drinks and heavy meals.
According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), heat also can cause injury due to accidents related to sweaty palms, fogged up glasses and dizziness. Sunburns are also a hazard of sun and heat exposure.
ASSE suggests that employees and employers use the following tips to prevent heat-related illnesses and injuries:
- 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 also can 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 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 airflow while still protecting hands. Choose gloves with a liner to absorb sweat and prevent 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 5 to 7 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 their high sodium content.
For more information, visit http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/blog/nsb071408_summerheat.html.