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    Keeping Cool: Being Prepared for Heat-Related Illnesses

    20 June 2024 - Langdon Dement

       

    Summer is typically thought of as a season of “fun in the sun” and generally just being outdoors with family and friends doing anything active and enjoyable. Whether it’s swimming, playing sports, going to the beach or just being outside during work, most of us love summer. Unfortunately, it’s also a time of extreme heat which can cause serious adverse health effects.

    For instance, right now we are experiencing an unprecedented heat wave throughout most of the U.S. On top of that, an increase in humidity is occurring, which makes an already hot temperature feel unbearable.

    So, what does all this mean for workers?

    Sadly, heat is a major hazard that can cause serious or even fatal illness to employees if proper precautions are not considered. Whether indoors or outdoors, heat-related illnesses can wreak havoc on people’s health and safety. In 2022, the National Safety Council’s (NSC) Injury Facts found 180 deaths caused by extreme heat. Additionally, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported 43 fatalities specifically due to environmental heat, with an 18.6 percent increase in fatalities due to exposure to temperature extremes. And these numbers aren’t counting the thousands of people that feel ill and aren’t able to finish their daily job due to occupational heat exposure.

    While we can’t completely eliminate the hazard of heat, there are precautions we can implement to reduce the risk of heat-related illnesses. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends:

    1. Building heat acclimatization for employees

    This is the process of building tolerance for working in warm/hot environments. OSHA found 50% - 70% of outdoor fatalities occurred in the first few days of working in these environments.

    2. Staying properly hydrated

    Don’t wait until you're thirsty! Make sure you're getting enough fluids and electrolytes throughout your shift. 

    3. Watching out for signs of heat illnesses

    There are several heat-related illnesses to be aware of, including rhabdomyolysis, heat rash, heat syncope, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

    4. Taking breaks

    Know when to stop for rest and cool down in shaded or cooler areas.


    5. Conducting heat-related training

    Ensure employees are properly trained in identifying and preventing symptoms of heat exhaustion.

    It’s also worth noting that due to symptoms worsening very quickly, if in doubt, cool the worker and call 911 immediately. Don’t hesitate to administer first aid or try to diagnose the person.

    Most of us feel confident in being able to identify where hazardous heat exposures could occur. Unfortunately, there is a plethora of workplaces we don't typically consider that can become seriously hazardous under certain conditions

    We generally think of construction (road, roof and other outdoors), agricultural, oil and gas operations, fire services and certain manufacturing environments. However, some other workplaces we might not consider are bakeries, laundries, warehouses and sites of maintenance work.

    In other words, hazardous heat exposure can occur just about anywhere and adversely affect just about anyone, which is why it’s pivotal to stay abreast and be prepared.

       

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