July and August are typically the two hottest months of the year for the Northern hemisphere. For kids, these sweltering summer days are spent running around in light clothing, playing in the water, and downing plenty of fluids like juices or popsicles. Indoor workers are admiring the gorgeous weather from the comfort of their climate-controlled office environments. But for many workers, the job entails laboring outside in the heat and direct sunlight.
Each year, thousands of workers become sick from heat exposure. Often times, a worker will not be aware that they are becoming overheated until it’s too late. The body normally cools itself by perspiring. If temperature and humidity are too high, or the worker’s personal protective equipment (PPE) does not allow for natural cooling or ventilation, the body cannot sweat out heat fast enough. Internal temperature rises and early symptoms like fatigue or confusion creep in. If left unchecked these symptoms can quickly escalate causing illness, injury and even death.
Heat illness can affect anyone who is exposed to hot and humid conditions, but workers who are performing labor-intensive tasks or wearing heavy protective clothing are at greater risk. Job environments more likely to expose workers to heat illness include agriculture, building construction, road maintenance, landscaping power transmission and petroleum operations.
To prevent heat-related illness, OSHA recommends the following:
- Drink water every 15 minutes, even if you aren’t thirsty.
- Rest in the shade, not in direct sunlight.
- Wear a hat and light-colored clothing.
- Learn to recognize the signs of heat illness.
- Keep an eye on fellow workers.
- Take it easy on the first days. Let your body acclimatize, or adjust to the heat.
To raise awareness regarding heat-related sickness or injury, OSHA has again published information for employers and workers through its annual Heat Illness Prevention Campaign. OSHA’s campaign centers on three simple words for working safely in the heat: water, rest and shade. According to OSHA, “the work can’t get done without them.”
The Heat Illness Prevention Campaign offers a range of awareness tools including training lesson plans and worksite posters. The coolest feature of the campaign is a free smartphone app that calculates the heat index for the user’s current location through OSHA’s partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).