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Summer temperatures can be especially dangerous for those who perform strenuous work outdoors. Heat, humidity and dehydration can be harmful or even fatal. If workers do not take the proper precautions, they can lose concentration, feel sick or irritable and lose the desire for the fluids they so desperately need. In some cases, workers can faint, become extremely ill or even die if they do not receive immediate help to lower their body temperature.
When exposed to heat, the body tries to maintain a constant internal temperature. It increases blood flow to the skin, so excessive heat can be released. The body produces sweat that evaporates and cools the skin. However, when a worker is involved in heavy physical labor in hot weather conditions, this process doesn’t work as nature planned. In these cases core body temperature can rise, heart rate can increase and the body can experience heat stress. To avoid becoming victims of extreme heat, operators need to learn to recognize the signs of heat stress and take the necessary precautions to avoid it.
Although there is no specific Occupational Safety & Health Administration standard for heat stress, employees are protected under the General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety & Health Act because heat-related illnesses are a serious hazard. The General Duty Clause states that employers are required to “… provide a place of employment free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to its employees.” The frequency of accidents in general appears to be higher in hot environments than in more moderate environments. Heat tends to promote accidents that occur because of sweaty palms, dizziness or the fogging of safety glasses due to quick changes in temperature from indoor to outdoor areas.
This document will increase employer and employee awareness of the risks of working in hot environments and will provide information on measures to reduce those risks.
Heat Rash – also known as prickly heat. A heat rash occurs when sweat does not easily evaporate from the skin and sweat ducts become clogged, resulting in a rash on the surface of the skin. Operators should take frequent breaks in a cool place during the work day, like the air-conditioned cab of a truck, and wash and dry skin regularly to prevent heat rash.
Heat Cramps – a mild condition resulting from dehydration where muscles will cramp or spasm involuntarily. Cramps may occur alone or simultaneously with other heat-related illnesses, and may be caused by the ingestion of either too much or too little salt or not enough fluids. Operators who suspect they are suffering from heat cramps should take a break and drink plenty of water.
Heat Exhaustion – a more serious condition, and also the most common type of heat-related injury. Operators suffering from heat exhaustion will feel fatigue and weakness. Heat exhaustion is caused by the loss of large amounts of fluid by sweating, sometimes with excessive loss of salt. Symptoms include headaches, dizziness, mood changes, vomiting and pale, clammy skin. Operators should find a cool, shaded area as soon as possible and drink water. If possible, apply cold compresses to the head, neck and behind the knees.
Heat Stroke – the most severe heat-related condition. It occurs when the body can no longer rid itself of excess heat and stops producing sweat. Symptoms include headache, dilated pupils, delirium, body temperature of 104 degrees F (40 degrees C) or higher and hot, dry skin that may be red, mottled or bluish. Heat stroke is a medical emergency requiring intensive medical intervention and support. Any operator believed to be suffering a heat stroke must be cooled immediately, as death can occur in as little as 20 minutes.
Tips for Preventing Heat-Related Injuries
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