Heat waves are uncomfortable for everyone — and downright dangerous for those who work in the sun. Each summer thousands of outdoor workers experience heat exhaustion, which if untreated, can turn into heat stroke — a dangerous and potentially fatal condition.
Normally, the human “coolant” system uses perspiration and blood vessels to regulate body temperature However, when someone is working hard in the heat, especially when it’s also humid, this system can break down. The result: The worker suffers from a higher temperature, elevated heart rate (which can increase the risk of a heart attack), and impaired brain function — causing them to overlook hazards and make mistakes.
To help employers and employees cope with the heat this summer, OSHA is partnering with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to issue heat service alerts that will incorporate worker safety precautions, using the slogan, “water, rest, and shade.” NOAA also will include worker safety information on its Heat Watch Web page at http://www.noaawatch.gov/themes/heat.php.
To help your outdoor workers stay safe and healthy on outdoor jobs that expose them to heat, OSHA recommends that managers follow these guidelines:
- Provide heat stress training to workers and supervisors.
- Manage work activities and match them to employees’ physical condition.
- Emphasize that workers should take a break, drink some water, and rest for a few minutes in a cool place at the first sign of heat stress.
- Build up your tolerance for working in the heat. Heat tolerance is normally built up over one to two weeks.
- Drink a glass of water every 15 to 30 minutes while working. This is the best way to replace lost body fluid and prevent overheating.
- Take breaks to cool down. A 10- or 15-minute break every two hours is effective when you’re working in very hot conditions.
- Adapt your work and pace to the weather.
- Be aware of any health conditions affected by the heat.
- Read medication labels to learn about any possible effects of heat and sun.