With extreme summer temperatures comes a risk of heat-related illnesses or even death and a responsibility for employers to teach workers about proper heat management techniques.
"The initial onset of heat-related illness can be difficult to recognize," said Len Welsh, acting chief of Cal/OSHA. "Failing to appreciate the warning signs is often compounded by the surprising fact that many people have little desire to drink as their bodies approach the danger zone of dehydration. In that situation some people can be completely unaware of the impact heat is having on their bodies."
Cal/OSHA offers these pointers for workers and employers during periods when it is unusually hot.
- Don't forget the value of education and training. There is no substitute for knowing what you are doing. In high heat, that means appreciating the risk and understanding how to reduce it. Workers need to know what they must do to reduce the risk of heat illness and, just as importantly, why. Employees and employers should be thoroughly familiar with the signs and symptoms of heat stroke, which can include loss of concentration; difficulty focusing on a task; fatigue; increased irritability; nausea; cramps; hot and dry skin; lack of sweating or profuse sweating; rise in heart rate and body temperature; headache; and fainting. Training should include the importance of drinking water and avoiding dehydration, medical and behavioral risk factors for heat illness and the employer's emergency preparedness measures.
- Drink cool water. People working in the heat should drink small amounts of water frequently, at a rate of 3 to 4 cups per hour. Employers should be sure to have adequate amounts of water on hand. Diabetics, people who take medications that tend to dehydrate the body and people who may have been drinking alcoholic beverages the night before are especially at risk unless they compensate by increasing their water consumption. Because of their dehydration impact, it is prudent to avoid or cut down on alcoholic and caffeinated drinks during very hot weather.
- Plan the day with heat in mind. Supervisors should consider scheduling heavy work for cooler parts of the day. For work indoors, make sure ventilation is functioning and optimized for cooling. For work outdoors, plan to have shade available in a cool or ventilated area for breaks. Check in with workers frequently to remind and encourage them to take rest breaks, to drink water and to report any symptoms of heat illness.
- Be ready for emergencies. It is always a good idea and a central part of any strategy for dealing with heat. Know where emergency medical facilities are. Don't hesitate to call 9-1-1 in a medical emergency. If the work area is not identifiable by a standard address, be prepared to explain how to find it. For work in remote locations there must be an emergency evacuation plan. Get emergency medical attention immediately if someone has one or more of the following symptoms: mental confusion; loss of consciousness; flushed face; hot, dry skin; or an absence of sweating.
To find out more about protecting workers from heat stress, visit Cal/OSHA's Web site at http://www.dir.ca.gov.