Although you are not able to control the weather, you can help your employees take steps to protect themselves from the heat. The health and safety of your employees are one of an employer’s responsibilities, especially when the weather may pose a threat to the well-being of your workers. Summer heat is a genuine hazard for those working outdoors, or indoors without climate control. The human body is constantly working to disperse the heat it produces through metabolism and, for the most part, you will not be aware of it unless you are exposed to more heat than your body can handle.
The first few days of heat are the most dangerous as it takes time for the body to acclimate to clearing excess heat. This might even be more important for those who are recently hired and not used to working in areas without climate control. The Department of Labor suggests all new and temporary employees are supervised for the first two weeks to ensure they do not succumb to heat illness and adjust well to working in the summer weather.
Managers may encourage employees to dress in appropriate clothing to help them stay cool. For instance, inform your employees wearing dark colored shirts and pants will make the heat more intense and encourage them to opt for light-colored clothing when possible. When outside, hats and other protective headgear can protect the face in the back of the neck from the sun and reduce the potential for burns. Indoors, it’s helpful to set fans up to keep the air circulating. However, when the temperature rises above 95°, fans may increase the employees’ comfort level but may increase the potential for heat illness as the body is unable to cool appropriately.
Provide times for rest and hydration. A glass of cool water in the shade every hour is important to help the body regulate temperature and rehydrate. Access to sports drinks or electrolyte drinks may help reduce the potential for dehydration and electrolyte imbalances triggered by excess sweating for long periods of time. However, employees should avoid drinking caffeine and alcohol which will trigger the body to lose water more rapidly. Not every employee will be able to tell when it’s time for them to cool off, so all employees and managers should be trained to recognize the signs of heat illness in case someone needs attention.
When overheating does occur, it’s important to recognize the signs and symptoms. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has identified four stages through which heat-related illness often travels. The first stage is heat rash, which is an irritation to the skin caused by sweat build up. This is common and usually treatable by getting the individual into a cool place with good ventilation.
Without treatment, heat cramps may develop triggered when sweating causes a loss of electrolytes and fluids. Heat cramps are muscle spasms or pain, and the individual should be moved to a cool area to rest and hydrate. If the body has lost too much water and electrolytes, heat exhaustion may result. The individual may have cool, moist skin and experience nausea, headache, dizziness, weakness and a rapid pulse. Although cool to the touch, the employee should be immediately moved to a cool area with good ventilation and given a good source of water. Cold compresses or ice packs should be applied if they’re available and if symptoms do not disappear quickly, or if they worsen, the individual should be immediately taken to an emergency room. Heat stroke is a medical emergency during which the individual will suddenly stop sweating and the skin will feel hot to the touch. The person will become confused, faint or have seizures. Call 9-1-1 immediately and place the worker in a cool, shady area. Loosen their clothing and moisten the clothing. Apply cold compresses and if the individual is conscious get them to drink water.
Taking simple steps to acclimate employees to the heat, encouraging them to dress appropriately and giving them plenty of water to hydrate and time to rest in a cool area will reduce the potential they may experience heat-related illnesses.
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