It’s finally summer, temperatures are rising and workers are outdoors and in confined spaces and at risk of heat-related illness. The risk is real. In 2015, there were 2,830 incidents recorded by OSHA, 37 of them being fatal. How can you prevent heat exhaustion and heat stroke on your job site?
Step 1: Understand your Risk Level
OSHA has developed an app to make this easy. Download the OSHA-NIOSH Heat Safety Tool from the App Store and enter your location to see the hourly heat index and risk. In general, urban areas are at a higher risk than rural areas. The roofs, pavements and large volume of activity in cities create “heat islands” that can amplify the effects of a heat wave.
Step 2: Be Prepared
Create and implement a prevention plan for your job site.
- Specify a recovery area for workers to use during breaks. This area should be close to the site, shaded and have access to drinking water.
- Modify your schedule over the summer to distribute work throughout the day, placing heavier work during the cooler hours. Incorporate regular water breaks into your schedule.
- If an employee is hired over the summer or goes on extended leave, expose them to the heat gradually.
- Train employees in heat safety and basic treatment of heat-related illnesses.
- Establish and distribute an emergency plan and designate a person to oversee and enforce your plan. In case of a serious heat-related illness, this person should ensure there is a protocol and device to call for help.
Step 3: Know the Symptoms
Knowing the symptoms of heat stress is just as important as prevention.
If an employee shows any of the early signs of heat exhaustion, such as dizziness, weakness, headache, muscle aches and cramps, excessive thirst, or confusion and anxiety, move them to a shaded or air-conditioned area to hydrate. If the symptoms aren’t alleviated, seek medical attention.
More serious symptoms, listed below, may be signs of serious heat exhaustion or heat stroke and require immediate medical attention.
- rapid or dramatically slowed heartbeat
- confusion, anxiety, or loss of consciousness
- rapid rise in body temperature
- drenching sweats accompanied by cold, clammy skin
- a marked decrease in sweating accompanied by hot, flushed, dry skin
Make sure that you and your employees are familiar with these symptoms and know how to recognize them and take action. For more information on keeping your employees safe from heat-related illness, visit OSHA.gov.