Beat the Heat with Heat-Stress Prevention Tips from ASSE

June 21, 2012
Summer is starting with a bang this year as a heat wave moves from the Midwest to the East coast. For employees working outdoors or in hot indoor environments, the heat can lead to serious illness. The American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) advises employers to take steps now to recognize, treat and prevent heat stress.

"Heat and humidity are a serious safety threat to workers during the summer – from utility workers to agriculture, construction, firefighters, roadway workers and more," said ASSE President Terrie S. Norris, CSP, ARM. "People should heed the heat warnings and act quickly when they begin to feel any heat-related symptoms."

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) notes heat is the No.1 weather-related killer in the United States, with excessive heat claiming more lives each year than floods, lightning, tornadoes and hurricanes combined.

Thousands of outdoor workers suffer heat illness each year. When heat stress, heat exhaustion or heat stroke occurs, workers may face serious illness or even death. OSHA officials note that symptoms of heat stroke include dry, hot skin with no sweating; mental confusion or losing consciousness; and seizures or convulsions. Factors leading to these conditions include high temperatures; being in direct sun or heat; limited air movement; physical exertion; poor physical condition; some medicines; using bulky protective clothing and equipment; and inadequate tolerance for hot workplaces.

ASSE offers the following tips for employees and employers to prevent heat stress:

· Take breaks in cooler, shaded areas and rest regularly.
· Use fans or air conditioning to stay cool.
· 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 also 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 and still protect hands. Choose gloves with a liner to absorb sweat and prevent perspiration buildup. Some gloves 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.
· To prevent dehydration, another hazard associated with exposure to heat, drink lots of water, about one cup every 15 minutes. Drink cool water and avoid diuretics such as coffee, tea, alcohol or soda, as these can deplete body fluid.

NOAA provides information on how heat impacts the human body at "The Hazards of Excessive Heat."

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