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Staying cool on the job as summer temperatures heat up

In many types of work environments, it is easy to become overheated. Hazardous heat exposure can be witnessed indoors or out during any season. This is particularly likely when heavy physical activity is being performed, clothing that holds in body heat is worn, acclimatization is rushed, or environmental conditions are hot and humid. The risks of heatstroke are exponentially higher in areas where the temperature is not regulated and during the hottest months of the summertime. While illness due to heat is very preventable, thousands of people get sick from heat exposure each year, and several fatalities are reported annually. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) website states: Most outdoor fatalities, 50% to 70%, occur in the first few days of working in warm or hot environments because the body needs to build a tolerance to the heat gradually over time. The process of building tolerance is called heat acclimatization. Lack of acclimatization represents a major risk factor for fatal outcomes.

Jobs likely to expose workers to heat risks

According to OSHA, typical jobs associated with an elevated risk of heat stroke include:
Construction sites
Bakeries, restaurants, and commercial kitchens.
Mining sites
Rubber products factories
Electrical utilities such as boiler rooms
Landscaping
Chemical plants
Farm and agricultural work
Firemen
Rubber products factories
Oil and gas operations
Rubber products factories
Emergency response teams
Policemen
Hazardous waste sites

Signs of heat stroke and heat-related illness

Many heat-related sicknesses can affect workers in hot, humid conditions. Several symptoms are non-specific, meaning that any unusual change should be taken seriously if performing work in an environment at risk for heat-related illness. According to the Mayo Clinic, Heatstroke is a condition caused by your body overheating, usually as a result of prolonged exposure to or physical exertion in high temperatures. This most serious form of heat injury, heatstroke, can occur if your body temperature rises to 104 F (40 C) or higher.

The following are common symptoms of overexposure to heat:
Heat Rash

Heat rash

Clusters of red bumps on the skin. Often appearing on the neck and chest.

Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion

Fatigue, irritability, thirst, nausea or vomiting, dizziness or lightheadedness, heavy sweating, an elevated body temperature, or fast heart rate.

Heat Stroke

Heat stroke

Confusion, slurred speech, unconsciousness, seizures, heavy sweating or hot, dry skin, very high body temperature, or a rapid heart rate.

Protecting employees from heat-related illnesses

Any environment with elevated air temperatures, radiant heat sources, lots of humidity, or strenuous physical activities has an increased potential to cause heat illness in workers. The higher the heat index (a single value that takes both temperature and humidity into account), the hotter the environment. Caution and safety should be practiced in high heat index conditions. It is critical to maintain a stable internal temperature through sweating and blood circulation to the skin. As environmental heat approaches the body’s normal temperature (90 degrees and above), an increased risk of overheating begins. When the body cannot get rid of excess heat, it stores it, causing an increase in the heart rate and core temperature. Luckily, heat illness is preventable with proper attention to the environment, and care is given to those exhibiting warning signs. The following steps can be taken to prevent overexposure to heat:

    Wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing when possible. Wearing excess clothing or material which fits too tightly will prevent the body from cooling properly.

    Protect against sunburn. Sunburn affects the body's ability to cool itself. When outdoors, protect with wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses and use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, reapplying every two hours.

    Drink plenty of fluids. Staying fully hydrated will aid in sweat production and help to maintain a normal body temperature.

    Structure strenuous work activities around the hottest parts of the day. When possible, avoid physical activity during the middle of the day when temperatures are at their highest.

    Make sure everyone is acclimated. Limit the time spent working in hot conditions until accustomed to it. Those not acclimated to hot weather are particularly vulnerable to heat-related illness. It can take several weeks for the body to build up a tolerance to heat.

Remember to stay cool in hot conditions.

Each person should make certain they are taking precautions when it comes to heat illness. The point at which someone will become too hot will vary by person, so allowing people to take breaks and hydrate at their own pace can prevent issues. Recognizing the signs of heat stroke is key to preventing illness and providing an appropriate work environment will ensure projects will be completed safely and on time.