The #1 Weather-Related Killer Can Be Avoided
Employers can protect workers by knowing what to look for, and by implementing some simple tips.
By, Robert Box
Working outside in the heat and humidity of summer months in North America seriously threaten workers’ health and safety, but employers can protect workers by knowing what to look for, and by implementing some simple tips.
Heat is the #1 weather-related killer in the United States, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Deaths related to the hot weather eclipse floods, lightning, tornadoes and hurricanes –combined.
Types of Heat Illness
Heat Illness is on a sliding scale from heat rash and cramps on the mild end, to Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke on the chronic end. Workers and employers should be on the lookout for symptoms of Heat Illness in general, but especially for signs of Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke as they can quickly escalate to serious illness or death.
Heat Exhaustion Symptoms
- Heavy sweating
- Headache, dizziness, or fainting
- Fast, weak pulse
- Irritability or confusion
- Thirst, nausea, or vomiting
Heat Exhaustion Response
- Call a supervisor for help. If the supervisor is not available, call 911.
- Have someone stay with the worker until help arrives.
- Move the worker to a cooler or at least shaded area.
- Remove outer clothing.
- Fan and mist the worker with water; apply ice (ice bags or ice towels).
- Have the victim sip cool water, if able to drink.
Heat Stroke Symptoms
- Dry, hot, red skin (victim may or may not be sweating)
- Body temperature above 103 degrees Fahrenheit
- Rapid and strong pulse
- Confusion, unable to think clearly
- Seizures, convulsions
- Losing consciousness
Heat Stroke Response
- This is an emergency; call 911 immediately.
- Relocate the victim to a cooler or more shaded area.
- Apply ice to the victim as soon as possible; sitting the victim in an ice bath works well.
- Do NOT give fluids to the victim. Wait for emergency personnel to arrive.
How to Avoid Heat Illness
I would recommend employers use the following tips to help outdoor workers prevent Heat Illness:
Establish a complete Heat Illness Prevention Program.
Provide worker training to recognize and avoid Heat Illness.
Provide plenty of cool water within easy reach of workers. At least 1 pint of water per hour is recommended, but it is better to drink small amounts more frequently (at least a cup every 15 minutes).
Utilize cooling pads or towels dipped in cold water that can be inserted into hardhats or around the neck to keep the head and neck cool.
Manage work schedules to ensure frequent rest periods in shaded areas with fans and misters, or if possible, in air-conditioned areas.
Acclimatize workers to hot weather workloads gradually. Allow breaks that are more frequent for workers new to the heat, or those who have been recently ill or otherwise away from work.
Routinely check on workers who are at risk of heat illness due to protective clothing and high temperatures; make sure to document these checks.
Consider using a buddy system for workers to help monitoring efforts.
When possible, block out direct sun and other heat sources; consider working early mornings.
Avoid beverages containing alcohol or caffeine (e.g., coffee, tea, soda, beer, alcohol, etc.).
Wear lightweight, light-colored, and when safe to do so, loose-fitting clothing. Also when possible and appropriate, wear a wide-brimmed hat with a neck flap.
Use OSHA’s Heat Safety App
OSHA’s heat safety app calculates the heat-related risk of heat illnesses in your area. The app sends out reminders regarding hot weather tips for workers, such as drinking proper amounts of fluids, taking adequate breaks, gradually acclimatizing workers, and monitoring each worker for indicators of heat-related illness.
Robert Box is the owner of Safety First Consulting. Their expertise is helping businesses identify OSHA compliance issues in their workplaces, manage their safety programs, and we become accountable for the results. In addition to offering custom written safety programs for companies, Safety First Consulting provides required safety training, industrial hygiene sampling, noise sampling, and workplace inspections.