Heat Stress Prevention Tips from Washington L&I

July 11, 2006
With summer in full swing, the Washington state Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) is reminding its employers to take precautions to prevent heat stress among outdoor workers.

The agency recommends that workers drink plenty of water even when not thirsty take regular breaks, wear light clothing and adjust to the pace of the work, among other things.

A worker who begins feeling ill should stop work immediately and take steps to cool down.

"Heat stress is a serious health issue and can quickly escalate to heat stroke, which can cause death," said Steve Cant, Washington L&I's assistant director for safety and health. "Everyone who works outdoors in hot weather needs to take precautions."

To avoid heat stress illness, Washington L&I recommends that workers:

  • Drink plenty of water, even when not thirsty. Sip small amounts often.
  • Try to do the heaviest work during the cooler parts of the day.
  • Start slower and work up to their normal pace (since adjusting to the heat takes time).
  • Wear light, loose-fitting, light-colored breathable clothing such as cotton, and a hat.
  • Take regular breaks in the shade.
  • Avoid alcohol or drinks with caffeine before or during work.
  • Watch co-workers for signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
  • In the event that they start feeling symptoms of heat stress (lightheadedness, headache, nausea, dizziness, etc.), stop what they're doing immediately and take steps to cool down. Tell a supervisor.

Some of the signs of heat stroke include no sweating; red or flushed, hot dry skin; rapid pulse; headache; blurred vision; dizziness or fainting; difficulty breathing; pinpoint pupils; unusual behavior; convulsions; and collapse.

If a worker appears to be suffering from heat stroke, get medical help immediately by calling 9-1-1.

Earlier this year, Washington L&I adopted an emergency rule that requires employers with outdoor workers to have a safety plan in place to protect workers from heat-related illness during hot weather, in addition to other rules that require employers to provide drinking water and first aid training.

Additional resources are available on the L&I Web site.

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