Working in hot environments can be dangerous. In many industries, such as laundries, foundries, bakeries and construction projects, workers 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 1999, 34 workers died and 2,420 others experienced heat-related occupational injuries and illnesses serious enough to miss work, according to OSHA.
Simple precautions, such as those listed on OSHA''s Heat Stress Card, 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.
If offers a reference about heat-related injuries, including warning signs and prevention tips:
How to Protect Workers
- 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.
- 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 all over again when a worker returns from vacation or absence from the job.
- 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.
- Train first-aid workers to recognize and treat the signs of heat stress and be sure all workers know who has been trained to provide 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. Obesity, lack of conditioning, pregnancy and inadequate rest can increase susceptibility to heat stress.
- 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.
For a copy of OSHA''s Heat Stress Card in English or Spanish, click on OSHA''s Web site at www.osha.gov, then Newsroom, followed by Publications.
by Virginia Sutcliffe