Hot weather is great for heading to the beach, but it can be dangerous for those working in high temperatures.
Both outdoor and indoor workers exposed to hot temperatures run the risk of heat stress. Unfortunately, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 11 workers are killed or severely injured by heat stress every day.
Heat safety in the workplace is the best way to avoid heat stress and keep your whole team safe.
In this blog, we’ll focus on heat safety and dive into how to keep yourself and your team safe while working in high temperatures.
What is Heat Stress?
The body regulates its temperature to stay below 99.7° F. However, when the body cannot maintain its normal temperature below 99.7 ° F, it goes into heat stress. When left to progress, heat stress can develop into serious heat-related illnesses and even heat stroke. Extremely high internal temperatures of 104° F damage the brain and can result in death within 30 minutes.
We’ll focus on the environmental factors of heat stress and what you can do to avoid heat stress in the workplace. Individual factors like medication, age, and weight can also increase the risk for some workers.
Types of Heat Stress
Heat stress can result in several different heat-related illnesses such as:
- Sunburn. Severe sunburn is a form of heat stress that can cause skin blistering. It’s often accompanied by dehydration and fatigue as well.
- Heat rash. This is a skin irritation that forms when sweat cannot evaporate from the skin. It’s common in hot work environments that require protective clothing or have limited airflow.
- Heat cramps. Excessive sweating causes fluid and salt loss. Low salt levels can lead to muscle cramps. This commonly occurs in tired muscles and can even show up after work.
- Heat exhaustion. Heat exhaustion is a serious condition that involves heavy sweating, dizziness, and headache. When it worsens, it can lead to vomiting and even fainting.
How to Handle Signs of Heat Stress
For most signs of heat stress, the first course of action is to reduce physical activity and get to a cool place out of direct sunlight. Drink water or a sports drink and wait until you cool down to return to any physical activity. A heat rash must be kept dry, and you can apply powder to soothe it. Those with sunburn should stay out of the sun until it heals and use a moisturizing lotion.
For heat exhaustion and heat cramps, seek out medical attention if vomiting occurs, symptoms last over an hour, or you have heart problems. If you suspect a heat stroke, call 911 immediately and use damp, cool clothes to bring the person’s temperature down. Do NOT give the person anything to drink.
Ways to Prevent a Heat-Related Illness
While knowing how to handle heat stress is vital in an emergency, the best strategy is to prevent heat stress altogether. Here are some helpful tips that you and your team should implement to avoid heat stress:
- Acclimatize your team. Create an acclimatization plan to gradually increase your workers’ exposure to hot environments. For your current team, increase the time spent in the hot environment slowly over one to two weeks. On the other hand, new workers should not have any more than 20% exposure on the first day with a maximum of 20% additional exposure on the subsequent days.
- A partnering system. Use a buddy system to pair workers together. Each buddy is responsible for checking on the other to make sure they use water and shade during breaks. They should also check for heat-related symptoms.
- Appropriate clothing. Educate your team on appropriate clothing. Clothing should be loose-fitting, light-colored, and breathable. Opt for a sweat-wicking, breathable material as cotton can be soaked. While proactive equipment like gloves, boots, suits, and masks may be necessary, it increases the risk of heat stress. Workers that must use personal protective gear should be given adequate breaks outside of the gear.
- Water breaks. Fluids are vital for controlling body temperature during hot weather. Allow for many water breaks, encouraging your team to drink at least one cup of water every 15 to 20 minutes.
- Educate your team. Discuss the risk and signs of heat stress with your team. Make sure they know what to watch for in themselves and others. Post a dehydration chart near the bathrooms to remind employees to check their hydration levels and hydrate accordingly.
Check out our Heat Stress Resource Page for additional heat stress resources:
- Heat Index Chart
- NIOSH Fast Facts
- Printable posters from OSHA and NIOSH you can hang in your office
- Ergodyne Toolbox Talks
- OSHA Fact Sheets and Quick Card
- Heat Stress Guides and White Papers
- Additional Tools and Links
Quest Safety Can Help
Overheating at work is a serious issue that can lead to dangerous heat-related illnesses. Heat safety in the workplace is critical for preventing and adequately treating any heat stress. Quest Safety is here to help keep you and your team safe from the risks of heat stress. Contact us today to learn more about our summer safety solutions.