Don’t take UV rays, heat, or your health for granted if you’re working outside this summer. Working in the extreme heat, indoors or outside, can be downright dangerous, with thousands of Americans becoming sick, and more than 100 deaths occurring in 2016 due to preventable heat-related illnesses. According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) records, heat was a leading cause of weather-related deaths between 1987 and 2016.
OSHA’s Heat Illness Prevention Campaign launched in 2011 to educate employers and workers on the dangers of working in the heat. Three key words embody OSHA’s safety message: Water. Rest. Shade. Also, the National Weather Service uses the last Friday in May as its Heat Awareness Day to educate the public on the dangers of prolonged heat exposure and bring attention to the deadly hazard. Extreme heat impacts thousands of employees who work indoors and outside, whether inside a boiler room or iron foundry, kitchens, on farms, roadways, or at construction sites.
As temperatures rise over the coming months, workplaces can utilize tips, educational materials, and products to help workers stay safe and cool. Teaching workers the signs of heat-related illness and how to act quickly can prevent more serious medical conditions, and may even save lives. Available thought OSHA, employers can download a heat stress “quick card” via PDF, which explains how they can protect workers from extreme heat conditions. OSHA specifies that:
- Heat Stroke is the most serious heat-related illness and requires immediate medical attention. Symptoms include confusion, fainting, seizures, very high body temperature and hot, dry skin or profuse sweating. Call 911 if a coworker shows signs of heat stroke.
- Heat Exhaustion is also a serious illness. Symptoms include headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, thirst, and heavy sweating. Heat fatigue and heat rash are less serious, but they are still signs of too much heat exposure.
Further, OSHA recommends tips on its site, including the following:
- Drink water every 15 minutes, even if you are not thirsty and rest in the shade.
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and large amounts of sugar, which promote dehydration.
- Ask your health provider if any medications you are taking don't mix well with the sun.
- Keep an eye on fellow workers for signs of heat exhaustion or to remind them to take breaks.
- Acclimate on your first days of work; be sure to get used to the heat and allow yourself to build up a tolerance. Not being used to the heat is a big problem. Many of the people who died from heat stress were either new to working in the heat or returning from a break. If a worker has not worked in hot weather for a week or more, their body needs time to adjust.
- Wear light-color clothing and a head covering to shield the body from damaging UV rays.
OSHA doesn’t require employers to provide skin products with SPF. While many companies do provide some sort of protection through a heat illness protection program, being proactive, and using available resources is ultimately part of personal responsibility. Also, when a task requires specific personal protective equipment, it's important to not ditch safety due to the heat.
Heat Safety Ideas: What U.S. Companies are Doing to Beat the Heat
Sometimes inspiration comes from examples of what companies are doing successfully, and OSHA has assembled exemplary instances of companies protecting workers from heat stress. If your company has effective tips to share, you can also submit them by emailing them to HeatSafetyTips@dol.gov. Three working examples of employers beating the heat include:
Land of Lincoln Goodwill Industries in Springfield, Illinois, has a buddy system. Workers watch out for each other and quickly report symptoms of heat illness to their supervisor. By company policy, new employees are to be acclimated to the heat by getting frequent breaks during their first two weeks on the job and during heat waves. Workers are also equipped with cooling caps and bandanas, and may work earlier shifts. Additional breaks, water, and hydrating sports drinks are provided on days when temperatures are expected to soar.
Workers at aviation maintenance company Valair Aviation in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, perform work activities in aircraft hangars that can exceed 95 degrees. Large fans, ice machines, and filtered water dispensers are placed around the hangars, and jobs can rotate to cooler locations within the hangars. Workers are trained on the signs of dehydration, heat cramps, and heat stroke, with nearly all of the workers certified in first aid, CPR, and defibrillator use. If heat illness does occur, they will know how to handle the situation until EMS arrives.
Keeping workers cool through fine misting water spray throughout the day is key at Ballard Marine Construction of Washougal, Washington. The marine contractor serves global clients in the nuclear, hydroelectric, salvage, pipeline, and submarine cable industries. To combat the heat, the company ensures set-up of portable shade canopies with misting hoses woven throughout the frames that continually spray workers. Barges are installed with misters and misting fans.