Although summer doesn’t officially begin until June 21, many parts of the country are already experiencing hot weather. That’s why OSHA urges employers to take steps to prevent heat stress and heat stroke.
OSHA warns that the combination of heat and humidity can be a serious health threat during the summer for workers. Employees in a wide variety of industries work outdoors or in un-air-conditioned facilities and factories. These types of jobs include workers at resorts and beaches, those in the construction industry, landscaping crews, road crews, workers in bakeries, kitchens and laundries, and agricultural employees, among others.
Every employee should be warned of the precautions to take to avoid heat stress. OSHA recommends that employees take these steps:
Drink water in small amounts frequently
Clothing should be light colored and fit loosely
Clothing of natural fibers that breathes, such as cotton, is preferred
Employees should take frequent breaks in the shade or an air-conditioned vehicle
Avoid caffeine, alcohol and large amounts of sugar – they impair the body’s ability to cool itself.
Work in the shade whenever possible
In addition, OSHA officials warn that certain prescription medications can increase an employee’s sensitivity to heat. Each employee should check with his or her doctor on special precautions to take during hot weather. Special equipment such as work suits or respirators can increase body temperature, and increase the chances of heat stress.
Heat stress is a general term that encompasses the body’s response to higher temperatures, from mild to severe symptoms. There are three major heat-related disorders:
Heat exhaustion or Hyperthermia should not be confused with Hypothermia. Although both conidtions are potentially fatal, in Hyperthermia the body temperature is too high. Hypothermia occurs when the body temperature is too cold. Employers should train workers to recognize each condition, and know what first aid treatment is necessary. If an employee believes that a coworker has heat stroke or heat exhaustion, the affected employee should find cool shade. If possible, the worker should be placed in an air-conditioned vehicle. Emergency responders should be contacted and the worker should be given water in small sips.