Hot Weather is Coming, and Heat Illness is No Joke
With summer comes sun and warm weather—but it also brings severe hazards to workers outdoors. Make sure you’re aware of how to best protect your workers outside.
- By Lauren Holman
- Feb 19, 2020
Summertime does not mean rest and relaxation for everyone. When the hot weather rolls around, many workers are required to work outside more frequently. Some of these workers include landscapers, welders, road pavers, construction workers, and agriculture workers. The most considerable threat to outdoor workers during the summer months is heat illness.
Medscape USA reported that heat-related illnesses are responsible for more deaths per year than any other weather-related exposure, including tornados, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, and hurricanes. Since 2014, heat-related fatalities have been on a steady rise as some of the hottest regions in the US are experiencing the effects of global warming more than others. In Arizona, for example, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the annual heat-related death toll was 235 in 2017, representing a 300 percent increase from only 76 deaths in 2014.
The serious health consequences associated with higher temperatures are said to be one of the most dangerous components of global warming. The federal government’s Global Change Research Program predicts “tens of thousands of additional premature deaths per year across the US by the end of this century.” This article will not only discuss the significant threat of heat-related illness, but it will identify other hazards, as well as methods to mitigate worker’s risk during the hottest months of the year.
Heat-related illness encompasses any scenario where a person becomes exposed to extreme heat, and their body temperature rises quickly. Often, the body is not able to cool itself down. Heat illness can result in heat exhaustion with symptoms that include muscle cramping, fatigue, headache, nausea, dizziness, or fainting. Heatstroke occurs when the body temperature exceeds 103 degrees Fahrenheit.
It can be life-threatening, and it causes a person to become dizzy, have a severe headache, rapid pulse, confusion, dry skin, and possibly lose consciousness—and it could even result in a heat stroke if not properly treated. A very high body temperature for a prolonged period can inflict serious damage to the brain and other organs and quickly lead to organ failure and even death.
Heat Illness Prevention in California
Workers and organizations alike need to ensure that all employees are properly trained in the area of heat illness prevention. Proper training entails communicating personal and environmental risk factors, the consequences of excessive heat exposure, the importance of hydration, the signs and symptoms of heat illness, and procedures that will enable employees to respond appropriately if there is an emergency.
In California, The Heat Illness Prevention Network (The HIP Network) is a voluntary partnership that is designed to boost employer and employee awareness of the hazards and risks associated with heat illness. They provide up-to-date information to businesses to prevent heat illness throughout workplaces in California.
In addition to proper training, adequate water must be available to workers out in the heat. One quart per hour, or four 8-ounce glasses of water, is the recommended intake. Employees should not only be educated on this fact; they should also be encouraged to follow through.
Adequate water, paired with access to a shaded area, will minimize a worker’s risk of heat illness. The amount of shade provided must be large enough to comfortably shelter all employees on the job. It is important that workers do not wait until they feel sick to seek shade or to drink water. But remember: it is a company’s responsibility to make sure that employees have access to shade if temperatures exceed 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
Lastly, companies must develop and communicate procedures that adhere to state and OSHA Heat Illness Prevention Standard.
Healthline defines dehydration as any instance where your body is losing more water than it is taking in. An inevitable result of working outdoors in very high temperatures is excessive sweating. If a worker does not consume enough water throughout the day to replenish their body of the water it has lost, they have a very high chance of becoming dehydrated. Symptoms of dehydration from mild to severe include tiredness, dry mouth or skin, headache, lightheadedness, dizziness, rapid breathing or heart rate, low blood pressure, lack of sweat production, and low blood pressure.
Poor Air Quality
Allergens, dust, debris, and other environmental factors can lower the quality of air during hotter months. Factors like these will be even more significant threats who suffer from respiratory diseases, such as asthma. Air quality is becoming a more prominent issue in the US, especially in the summer months, when forest fires are becoming increasingly more frequent.
Poor air quality has been found to impact worker health and productivity negatively. Air pollution can cause workers to become excessively tired, develop headaches, have difficulty breathing, develop dry or irritated eyes, or become dizzy or faint. These symptoms can develop within a few minutes of being exposed to polluted air conditions, depending on the state of the worker. In extreme cases, regularly working in an environment that has poor air quality can increase a worker’s risk of stroke.
Here’s What You Can Do
Recognizing the signs of a heat-related illness is essential. If you or a fellow worker is getting confused, looking faint, has abnormally high body temperature, has dry skin, or is sweating excessively, there is a high chance that they are either developing or have already fallen victim to heat illness.
When working outside in extreme heat conditions, workers should make a conscious effort to stay hydrated. This means drinking water every 15 minutes or so and taking regular breaks to cool down in the shade or an air-conditioned room if close to one. Wearing a hat, as well as clothing that is lightly colored, will also help to keep you covered and reduce your risk. Limit your exposure when you can by only spending time in the heat when you absolutely must.
Lastly, pay attention to your body and the physical and mental state of your co-workers. Do not over-work yourself, especially in extreme temperature conditions. The effects of physical labor will be felt more intensely in the hot, summer months. Increased temperatures call for heightened awareness of your physical workload.
Establish a Check-In Procedure
If a worker is required to work alone during the warm summer months, their risk of injury is even higher. If a lone worker falls victim to heat stroke or heat exhaustion, and there are no workers around to come to their aid, the consequences could be life-threatening. Automated worker monitoring solutions can protect your workers on the job, regardless of their location, profession, or temperature outside.
Providing your workers with software that allows them to check-in periodically throughout their shift is an easy and proactive way to confirm the safety of your people.
Safety should be a top priority of any organization. With the hot summer months approaching, outdoor workers will be exposed to a multitude of additional heat-related risks on the job. Make sure your company is taking the necessary steps to protect its people.