From construction workers to farm-hands to roofers to warehouse employees, the summer heat can have a devastating effect on workplace safety. As temperatures rise, so can injuries- at least if you’re not prepared. According to a recent press release from the Occupational Safety and Health Administrations (OSHA), “Every year, dozens of workers die and thousands more become ill due to working in the heat. About one-third of heat-related worker deaths occur in the construction industry, but outdoor workers in every field are susceptible to the dangers of heat."
Even though we are getting close to the end of summer, we still have hot days ahead of us. To make sure you and your employees combat the dangers of heat stress, here are five tips to beat common heat hazards.
Hydration, Hydration, Hydration
When it’s hot out, you sweat more. When you sweat more, you become more susceptible to dehydration. Dehydration happens when your body uses more water than it’s taking in and it’s a common cause of workplace illness during the summer. Symptoms of dehydration include weakness, dizziness, dry mouth, muscle cramps, light-headedness and fainting. Occasionally dehydration can also result in a high fever. To prevent dehydration, drink water or hydrating sports drinks every 15 minutes, even if you’re not thirsty. Be sure to take regular cool-down breaks to help control your body temperatures and reduce excess perspiration.
Don’t’ Feel the Burn
Sunburn isn’t just a problem for beach-goers. It’s a major hazard for those who work outdoors – especially in the summertime. Mild sunburn may only cause temporary discomfort, but more severe burns can result in swells and blisters that take weeks to heal. Furthermore, ongoing sunburn can have severe long-term consequences, such as an increased risk of skin cancer, wrinkling and brown spots. Workers who are exposed to the sun for half an hour or more should wear sweat proof sunscreen with an SPF of 50 or higher. Sunscreen should be reapplied every 60 to 80 minutes and prolonged exposure to the sun should b e avoided.
Manage Your Body Heat
Heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke, which is a life-threatening condition. It occurs when a person’s body has to work extra hard to maintain a stable core temperature in a hot environment-either outside or indoors. Despite the misconception that heat only affects those who are weak or out of shape this heat related illness can happen to anyone. The protective measures many workers are required to take like wearing headgear, boots and bulky clothing can make them even more susceptible. Heat stroke symptoms include confusion, irrational behavior, loss of consciousness, convulsions and high blood pressure. Heat exhaustion symptoms include headache, nausea, vertigo, weakness, thirst cramps and fainting. It’s critical that workers know the signs of both conditions and are properly trained on what to do. To avoid heat exhaustion, mandate regularly scheduled breaks in cool or shaded areas and provide plenty of water and cool, damp cloths to place on hot skin.
Slippery When Sweat
Excessive sweating can cause other types of work place injuries besides heat exhaustion and stress. Sweaty hands can lead to loss of grip, increasing the potential for injuries from dropped objects, cuts and lacerations. Fortunately, modern work gloves are made with synthetic fibers to help keep hands cool and comfortable while maintaining dexterity and grip. If you’re working in high heat conditions this summer and susceptible to sweating, invest in a good pair of gloves to keep hands dry and safe.
Get Your Shades On
Bright sunlight can not only result in sunburn but also visual impairment. Your eyes can become sunburned if left exposed without protection, resulting in vision problems, burning pain, decreased eyesight, or partial or complete vision loss. Wear sunglasses with total UV protection anytime your eyes are exposed to bright sunlight. Not only will you prevent sunburn, but you’ll also prevent injuries that may have been caused by not being able to see clearly in the bright glare of the sun.
Although all workers exposed to high heat environments are susceptible to heat-related injury, some are more susceptible than others. Those at the greatest risk are individuals who have not built up a tolerance to such conditions. That could be new employees, temporary employees, or those returning to work after time off. To help prevent injuries, encourage all workers to ease into summer by taking more frequent breaks as they get used to the heat.
This article first appeared in our new digital magazine Safer Every Day. Click here to get your complimentary subscription and get more insights from our first issue that focused on tips and tricks to help you combat the effects of heat stress.
Have a Safe Day!