NIOSH, OSHA Release Heat Stress Prevention Fact Sheet

Heat stroke is a medical emergency that may result in death. Symptoms include confusion, loss of consciousness, seizures, very high body temperature, and hot, dry skin or profuse sweating.

OSHA and NIOSH have released a fact sheet that provides information to employers on measures they should take to prevent heat-related illnesses and death. At times, workers may be required to work in hot environments for long periods. When the human body is unable to maintain a normal temperature, heat-related illnesses can occur and may result in death.

According to the document, heat stroke is the most serious heat-related health problem. Heat stroke occurs when the body’s temperature-regulating system fails and body temperature rises to critical levels. Heat stroke is a medical emergency that may result in death. Symptoms include confusion, loss of consciousness, seizures, very high body temperature, and hot, dry skin or profuse sweating.

Heat cramps are muscle pains usually caused by physical labor in a hot work environment. Heat cramps are caused by the loss of body salts and fluids during sweating.

Heat rash is the most common problem in hot work environments. It’s caused by sweating and looks like a red cluster of pimples or small blisters. Heat rash usually appears on the neck, upper chest, and in the elbow creases.

The best way to prevent heat illness is to make the work environment cooler. Recommendations for indoor and outdoor work environments include:

  • Train workers to recognize symptoms in themselves and others.
  • If you have someone who is new to the job or who has been away for more than a week, gradually increase the workload or allow more frequent breaks the first week.
  • Provide workers with plenty of cool water in convenient, visible locations close to the work area. Water should have a palatable taste and water temperature should be 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit if possible.
  • Remind workers to frequently drink small amounts of water before they become thirsty to maintain good hydration. Simply telling them to drink plenty of fluids is not sufficient. During moderate activity, in moderately hot conditions, workers should drink about one cup every 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Workers should eat regular meals and snacks as they provide enough salt and electrolytes to replace those lost through sweating as long as enough water is consumed.
  • Reduce the physical demands of the job. If heavy job tasks cannot be avoided, change work/rest cycles to increase the amount of rest time.

Additional recommendations for indoor work environments include:

  • Indoor workplaces may be cooled by using air conditioning or increased ventilation if cooler air is available from the outside.
  • Other methods to reduce indoor temperature include providing reflective shields to redirect radiant heat, insulating hot surfaces, and decreasing water vapor pressure, e.g., by sealing steam leaks and keeping floors dry.
  • The use of fans to increase the air speed over the worker will improve heat exchange between the skin surface and the air, unless the air temperature is higher than the skin temperature.
  • Reflective clothing, such as safety vests, worn as loosely as possible, can minimize heat illness. Water-dampened cotton whole-body suits are an inexpensive and effective personal cooling technique. Cooling vests with pockets that hold cold packs are comfortable and effective.
  • More complex and expensive water-cooled suits are also available; however, these may require a battery-driven circulating pump and liquid coolant.
  • At worksites where high ambient temperatures typically occur (e.g. foundries, steel mills), professional consultation should be sought to evaluate the extent of the heat exposure and to make recommendations on how to prevent heat-related illnesses.

To view the complete info sheet, go to http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2011-174/pdfs/2011-174.pdf.

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