ASSE Offers Heat-Illness Safety Tips

The American Society of Safety Engineers issued a timely reminder that heat stress can cause workplace injuries and illnesses, and in many parts of the country the threat is imminent. The society suggests employers and employees be aware of the factors that can lead to heat stress and how to prevent them, as well as the symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke, and what can be done for these heat-related illnesses.

First, as OSHA notes, when one’s body is unable to cool itself by sweating, several heat-induced illnesses such as heat stress or exhaustion and the more severe heat stroke can occur, and can result in death. Factors leading to these conditions include high temperatures, being in direct sun or heat, limited air movement, physical exertion, poor physical condition, some medicines, and inadequate tolerance for hot workplaces.

”Heat and humidity can be a serious safety threat to all workers during the summer -- from lifeguards to agriculture, construction, and roadway workers,” said ASSE President Darryl C. Hill, Ph.D., CSP. “People should think twice if they begin to feel these symptoms and act quickly.”

Headaches, dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting; weakness and moist skin; mood changes such as irritability or confusion and upset stomach and vomiting are symptoms of heat exhaustion, the society notes.

Symptoms of heat stroke include dry, hot skin with no sweating; mental confusion or losing consciousness; and seizures or convulsions.

To prevent heat stress, officials suggest that you monitor co-workers and yourself. Prevention efforts include blocking out direct sun or other heat sources, using cooling fans or air conditioning, and resting regularly. It is also important to drink lots of water -- about one cup every 15 minutes -- and to wear lightweight, light colored, loose-fitting clothes. It is recommended that if you’re going to be in the sun, avoid alcohol, caffeinated drinks, and heavy meals. According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, heat can also cause injury due to accidents related to sweaty palms, fogged-up glasses, and dizziness. Sunburns are also a hazard of sun and heat exposure. Suggested tips for employees and employers to use in order to prevent heat-related illnesses and injuries include:

  • Use cooling pads that can be inserted into hardhats or around the neck to keep the head and neck cool. Vented hardhats or neckbands soaked in cold water can also be used to minimize prolonged heat exposure and prevent the body from overheating.
  • Wear protective eyewear that features sufficient ventilation or an anti-fog lens coating to reduce lens fogging from the heat. Sweatbands also can be used to prevent perspiration from dripping into the eyes.
  • Use gloves with leather palms and cotton or denim backs, which allow for an increased airglow and still protect hands. Also, choose gloves with a liner to absorb sweat preventing perspiration buildup. Some gloves also feature strips of nylon mesh or are perforated at the back of the hand for more airflow.
  • Wear light-colored, loose-fitting, breathable clothing such as cotton, recommends OSHA.
  • Take breaks in cooler shaded areas.
  • For workers exposed to extreme heat, proper hand protection from burns depends on the temperature and type of work to which workers are exposed.
  • To prevent dehydration, NIOSH recommends that workers drink five to seven ounces of fluids every 15 to 20 minutes. Drink cool water and avoid diuretics such as coffee, tea, alcohol, or soda that actually deplete body fluid. Sports drinks are also good for replacing fluid in the body, but use should be monitored due to the high sodium content.

A recent article in ASSE’s journal, Professional Safety, describes the heat hazards encountered by one company working in the State of Qatar and what the company did to index the severity of the heat-related illness problem and the preventive work practices it provided to workers resulting in a reduction of heat-stress-related medical treatments. The article, titled “Heat Stress – Improving safety in the Arabian Gulf oil and gas industry,” by ASSE member Oliver F. McDonald, CSP, CIH, et al., points out that the full spectrum of heat stress disorders were a hazard at the location and notes that the State of Qatar had banned midday working hours for certain employees during the hottest times of the year due to the threat of the illnesses.

The authors said the practices used in Qatar to reduce heat-related stress to workers included: allowing workers to become acclimated to the heat; using engineering controls such as cooling, ventilation, and shading -- difficult due to the daily change in environments; providing personal protective equipment such as umbrellas and evaporative bandanas; providing constant distribution of water in insulated water bottles; adjusting work scheduling; enforcing employee rotation; having self-evaluation; using the buddy system; working in shade and shielding; trying for area cooling; providing ventilation and mechanical assistance; placing water stations inside or near rest areas; and having mandatory water breaks.

In addition, the article says heat stress communication materials/safety tips were posted at key work locations, and colored flags alerting workers to the heat index were flown above the work projects. Materials for the workers were available in several languages, and employee training to new and existing employees and contractors to explain heat stress symptoms, the heat index system, the color coding and the controls implemented was provided. The program was recognized as a significant positive work practice during a recent company audit, the article notes.

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