ASSE Offers Tips on Preventing Heat-Related Illness

Each year, thousands of outdoor workers experience heat illness, which often manifests as heat exhaustion. If not quickly addressed, heat exhaustion can become heat stroke.

To prevent heat-related work injuries and illnesses, the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) suggests employers and employees take safety precautions and be aware of factors that can lead to heat stress, the symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke, ways to prevent heat stress, and what can be done for heat-related illnesses.

Each year, thousands of outdoor workers experience heat illness, which often manifests as heat exhaustion. If not quickly addressed, heat exhaustion can become heat stroke.

“Heat and humidity are a serious safety threat to workers during the summer—from utility workers, to agriculture, construction, firefighters, roadway workers, and more,” said ASSE President Terrie S. Norris, CSP, ARM. “People should heed the heat warnings and act quickly when they begin to feel any heat-related symptoms.”

ASSE warns one should be cautious when one’s body is unable to cool itself by sweating. Body temperatures can rise to dangerous levels if precautions are not taken. Factors leading to these conditions include high temperatures, being in direct sun or heat, limited air movement, physical exertion, poor physical condition, some medicines, using bulky protective clothing and equipment, and inadequate tolerance for hot workplaces.

OSHA officials note that 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 you monitor your co-workers and yourself. Prevention efforts include blocking out direct sun or other heat sources; using cooling fans or air conditioning; resting regularly; and wearing lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing. Drinking a lot of water, about one cup every 15 minutes, is important.

Although there is no one-size-fits-all solution, some 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 anti-fog lens coating to reduce lens fogging from the heat. Sweatbands can also 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 airflow 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.
  • Take breaks in cool, shaded areas.
  • To prevent dehydration, drink cool water and avoid diuretics such as coffee, tea, alcohol, or soda, as these can deplete body fluid.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said that heat is the number one weather-related killer in the U.S., noting excessive heat claims more lives each year than floods, lightning, tornadoes, and hurricanes combined. NOAA provides additional detail on how heat impacts the human body at “The Hazards of Excessive Heat“.

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