The US Labor Department has launched their annual summer campaign to prevent heat-related illnesses and it’s the perfect opportunity for us to review the best practices for how to work safe when dealing with extreme weather. Here are some facts and tips that you should be aware of going into the summer months, particularly if you’re responsible for the health and safety of outdoor workers or if you’re an outdoor worker yourself.
1. The Risk is Real!
Thousands of employees become sick each year and many die from working in the heat. In the US in 2012, there were 31 heat-related worker deaths and 4,120 heat-related worker illnesses.
2. Know the Warning Signs
If you or a colleague experience some or most of the following symptoms, you may be suffering from heat exhaustion: dizziness, headache, sweaty skin, weakness, heat cramps, nausea, vomiting, and fast heartbeat. A heat stroke can be identified by red, hot, dry skin; high temperature; confusion; convulsions; and fainting.
3. Are You Particularly Vulnerable?
Heat illness often affects those who haven’t built up a tolerance to heat (acclimatization), making it especially important for new and temporary workers to be cautious. Take frequent breaks if you’re new to working outdoors in hot weather.
4. A Dose of Prevention
Drink water often, even if you’re not thirsty, and don’t be afraid to report your heat symptoms early or take a break when needed. You should also dress to stay cool by wearing loose, light-colored clothing and hats.
5. Getting Employers on Board
There’s plenty that employers can do to keep their employees safe! Include scheduled, frequent water breaks, allow time to rest, and provide shade to rest and cool down. Training workers on spotting the signs of heat illness and how to react is also valuable.
For more on what employers can do to protect workers from the effects of heat, check out this OSHA Fact Sheet that provides information on measures employers should take to prevent worker illnesses and death caused by heat stress. Interestingly, OSHA also has a map of the U.S. that illustrates the locations of outdoor worker, heat-related fatalities between 2008 and 2013.