OSHA Offers 'Hot' Tips to Prevent Heat Stress

May 29, 2002
As the weather heats up, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is reminding workers and employers that working in hot environments can be dangerous.

Workers in industries such as laundries, foundries, bakeries and construction projects, face conditions that make them especially vulnerable to safety and health hazards. Higher summer temperatures increase those risks.

The combination of heat, humidity and physical labor can lead to fatalities. In 2000, 21 workers died and 2,554 others experienced heat-related occupational injuries and illnesses serious enough to miss work. Additional illnesses may be under-reported if workers and employers are not familiar with the warning signs.

Taking simple precautions can prevent many heat-related deaths and injuries.

"We want to help employers and workers learn how to reduce illnesses and fatalities related to heat," said John Henshaw, Assistant secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health. "Education and training can save lives."

The two most serious forms of heat-related illnesses are heat exhaustion (primarily from dehydration) and heat stroke, which could be fatal. Signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke need immediate attention. Recognizing those signs - dizziness, nausea, weakness, dry, pale skin or hot red skin, seizures, mood changes - and taking quick action, can make a difference in preventing a fatality.

OSHA's Heat Stress Card lists tips and precautions that can prevent many heat-related deaths and injuries. Available in English and Spanish, this laminated fold-up card is free to employers to distribute to their workers. It offers a quick reference about heat-related injuries, including warning signs, symptoms and early treatment, and offers tips to protect workers:

  • Train all workers to recognize and treat the signs of heat stress. Be sure all workers know who has been trained to provide first aid. Also train supervisors 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. Taking certain medications, lack of conditioning, obesity, pregnancy, and inadequate rest can increase susceptibility to heat stress.
  • Work in pairs - use the buddy system. They can keep an eye on each other.
  • Help workers adjust to the heat by assigning a lighter workload and longer rest periods for the first 5 to 7 days of intense heat. This process needs to start all over again when a worker returns from vacation or absence from the job.
  • Encourage workers to drink plenty of water--about one cup of cool water every 15 to 20 minutes, even if they are not thirsty, and to avoid alcohol, coffee, tea and caffeinated soft drinks that dehydrate the body.
  • Encourage workers to wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing. Workers should change their clothes if they get completely saturated.
  • Use general ventilation and spot cooling at points of high heat production. Good airflow increases evaporation and cooling of the skin.
  • Alternate work and rest periods, with rest periods in a cooler area. Shorter, more frequent work-rest cycles are best. Schedule heavy work for cooler times of the day and use appropriate protective clothing.
  • Monitor temperatures, humidity, and workers' responses to heat at least hourly.

OSHA's Heat Stress Card in English or Spanish is available on OSHA's Web site at http://www.osha.govwww.osha.gov. For copies of the free laminated card, call OSHA Publications at (202) 698-1888 or write to: U.S. Department of Labor/OSHA, OSHA Publications, P.O. Box 37535 Washington, D.C. 20013-7535.

More information about heat and sun hazards can be found on OSHA's web site and at the Web sites of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (www.cdc.gov/niosh).

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