OR-OSHA Offers Heat Tips to Employers

When temperatures climb into the 90s or higher, workers can be at risk, and employers should recognize the symptoms to prevent serious problems, the agency says.

A July 10 release from Oregon OSHA reminds Oregon employers to be watchful for signs and symptoms of heat illnesses among their workers this summer. Temperatures climbing into the 90s or higher can cause serious problems for workers who aren’t acclimated to it, particularly when physical exertion is combined with high temperatures and high humidity, the agency noted. Oregon OSHA is a division of the Department of Consumer and Business Services.

"Employers need to plan ahead. These types of illnesses can sneak up on workers," said Penny Wolf-McCormick, health enforcement manager for Oregon OSHA. The release says from 2007 through 2011, 38 people received benefits through Oregon's workers' compensation system for heat-related illnesses.

To help those suffering from heat exhaustion:

  • Move them to a cool, shaded area. Do not leave them alone.
  • Loosen and remove heavy clothing.
  • Provide cool water to drink (a small cup every 15 minutes) if they are not feeling sick to their stomach.
  • Try to cool them by fanning them. Cool the skin with a spray mist of cold water or a wet cloth.
  • If they do not feel better in a few minutes, call 911 for emergency help.

Someone suffering heat exhaustion will sweat but may experience extreme fatigue, nausea, lightheadedness, or headache and may have clammy and moist skin, a pale complexion, and a normal or only slightly elevated body temperature. If heat exhaustion is not treated promptly, according to the agency, it could progress to heat stroke and possibly even death.

A heat stroke victim's skin will be hot and red, and the person may be irritable and confused, or may collapse. Emergency help should be summoned immediately for someone in this condition.

OR-OSHA said to prevent heat-induced illnesses:

  • Perform the heaviest, most labor-intensive work during the coolest part of the day.
  • Work in pairs (the buddy system) to monitor the heat.
  • Drink plenty of cool water (one small cup every 15-20 minutes).
  • Wear light, loose-fitting, breathable clothing (such as cotton).
  • Take frequent short breaks in cool, shaded areas — allow your body to cool down.
  • Avoid eating large meals before working in hot environments.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcoholic beverages (these beverages make the body lose water and increase the risk of heat illnesses).
  • "If employers and workers take these precautions, workers will be safe and the summer will be much better for all concerned," Wolf-McCormick said.

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