how to handle the heat

How to Handle the Heat

Occupational Health, SafetyMay 30, 2017

Summer is the busiest season for companies that work outdoors. Whether it’s construction, landscaping, or any outdoor career, warm weather means work! The sunshine is always a welcome relief after the cold, dreary months of winter; but it brings danger with it.

In 2014, 2,630 workers suffered from heat illness and 18 died from heat-related causes on the job. These illnesses – and deaths – are completely preventable. Employers are responsible for providing safe and healthy workplaces, and that includes heat safety. Heat safety is a straightforward topic, and one that employers cannot ignore. All it requires is a bit of time, education, and attention.

As a leader or employer, you must take the time to create a heat safety plan. Establish the conditions and temperatures that are too dangerous to work in. Set guidelines for how often employees have to take breaks. If possible, provide shaded or air-conditioned areas on every job site, where employees can cool off. Mandate protective clothing that includes hats, heat-reflective outfits, ice packs, and air-cooled garments. Do everything in your power to protect your workers before heat strikes.

In your heat safety plan, pay special attention to new employees. Most heat-related deaths occur in a worker’s first 3 days on the job, and more than ⅓ occur on the very first day. New employees need to acclimate their bodies to working in the heat – so ease them into the job. Make sure someone is looking out for them and monitoring their condition.

Next, educate employees on your company’s heat safety plan. Train them on the hazards of heat safety, and teach them how to handle the sun. Hydration is key, so encourage employees to drink water every hour. During very long hours, they should also drink beverages with electrolytes!

Be sure your workers know the symptoms of heat-related illness. Ask them to look out for one another and report any symptoms to the supervisor right away. Prepare employees for a heat-related emergency, if the worst were to happen. It may be beneficial for your workers to download OSHA’s Heat Safety Tool. The app calculates heat index and humidity, then provides specific recommendations for preventing heat illness.

Lastly, supervisors and leaders must pay attention to their workers on the job. They must be able to recognize the signs of illness and know how to respond right away.

According to WebMD, these are the signs of heat-related illness, which everyone on the job should be aware of:

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Excessive thirst
  • Cramps that begin suddenly in the hands, calves, or feet
  • Hard, tense muscles
  • Weakness
  • Confusion or anxiety
  • Dizziness
  • Agitation
  • Shortness of breath
  • Decreased urination
  • Blood in urine or stool
  • Very rapid or dramatically slowed heartbeat
  • Drenching sweat and cold, clammy skin or a decrease in sweating with hot, flushed, dry skin
  • Convulsions

If these symptoms arise, remove the worker from the job site and help them seek necessary medical care. Remember: the work is not worth a life.

This is only the beginning of heat safety, but time, education, and attention will truly make a difference for your employees’ health and wellness. For more resources and Occupational Health information, contact WCORHA!

U.S. Department of Labor
Occupational Safety and Health Administration