With temperatures and humidity on the rise this summer, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is encouraging employers to make sure heat stress isn't on the rise at work sites. The agency offers ideas on how to cope with extreme heat through the end of the warm-weather season.
OSHA suggests tips for employers and workers to prevent heat-related disorders, many of which are easily avoided. Simply drinking plenty of water and wearing light, loose-fitting clothing, for example, significantly reduce the risk. It is important to know that a person need not be in the sun for heat stress to occur.
Ten suggestions to employers for helping workers stay cool in hot workplaces:
- Encourage workers to drink plenty of water (without salt) &emdash; about one cup of cool water every 15 to 20 minutes, even if they are not thirsty. Avoid alcohol, coffee, tea and caffeinated soft drinks, which contribute to dehydration.
- Help workers adjust to the heat by assigning a lighter workload and longer rest periods for the first five to seven days of intense heat. This process needs to start over when a worker returns from vacation or absence due to illness or injury.
- Encourage workers to wear lightweight, loose-fitting, light-colored clothing. Workers should change their clothing if it gets completely saturated.
- Use general ventilation and spot cooling at points of high heat production. Good air flow increases evaporation and cooling of the skin. Stagnant atmospheric conditions and poor air quality can induce heat-related illnesses.
- Learn to spot the signs of heat stroke, which can be fatal. The symptoms are severe headache, mental confusion/loss of consciousness, flushed face and hot, dry skin. If someone has stopped sweating, seek medical attention immediately. Other heat-induced illnesses include heat exhaustion, heat cramps, skin rashes, swelling and loss of mental and physical work capacity.
- Train first-aid workers to recognize and treat the signs of heat stress. Be sure that all workers know who is trained to render first aid. Supervisors also should be able to detect early signs of heat-related illness and permit workers to interrupt their work if they become extremely uncomfortable.
- Consider a worker's physical condition when determining fitness to work in hot environments. Obesity, lack of conditioning, pregnancy and inadequate rest can increase susceptibility to heat stress.
- Alternate work and rest periods, with longer rest periods in a cooler area. Shorter, but frequent, work-rest cycles are best. Schedule heavy work for cooler parts of the day and use appropriate protective clothing.
- Certain medical conditions, such as heart conditions or treatments like low-sodium diets and some medications, increase the risk from heat exposure. Seek medical advice in those cases.
- Monitor temperatures, humidity and workers' responses to heat at least hourly.