Do you or your employees work outside or in hot environments? Safety in these environments is critical to keeping yourself and your employees healthy and productive. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), it is essential for us all to understand the potential threat that heat and humidity pose to workers. Let's first take a look at some of the potential consequences of working in the sun or heat:
Heat rash is going to be the most common heat-related issue at work. This takes the form of red clusters that look like pimples or small blisters caused by sweating. The most common areas to find heat rash are the neck, upper chest, groin, under the breasts, and elbow creases. The best way to treat this is to provide a cooler, less humid work environment. Powder can be applied to reduce friction and discomfort, but no ointment should be used as you want to keep the rash dry.
Heat cramps are the next heat-related issue. These are muscle pains caused by the loss of body salts and fluid that are expelled through sweating. Workers who experience heat cramps should replace the lost fluids through water and/or carbohydrate-electrolyte replacement drinks such as Gatorade every 15-20 minutes.
Heat exhaustion is a very serious heat-related problem. The signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion are: headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, irritability, confusion, thirst, heavy sweating, and a body temperature greater than 104 degrees Fahrenheit
. Workers who are experiencing heat exhaustion must be removed from the hot area and given liquids to drink. The worker must be cooled off with cold compresses to the head, neck, and face or wash their face with cold water. Workers with signs or symptoms of heat exhaustion should be taken to a clinic or emergency room for a medical evaluation and treatment. The worker should not be left alone until they are examined as their symptoms could worsen.
Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related health problem. Heat stroke occurs when the body's temperature regulating system fails and the body temperature rises to critical levels (greater than 104 degrees Farenheit). Heat stroke is a medical emergency that could result in death. The signs of heat stroke are: confusion, loss of consciousness, and seizures. Workers experiencing heat stroke have a very high body temperature and may stop sweating. If a worker shows signs of a possible heat stroke, get medical help immediately. Call 911. Until medical help arrives, move the worker to a shaded, cool area and remove as much of their clothing as possible. Wet the worker with cool water and circulate the air to speed cooling. Place cold wet cloths, wet towels, or ice all over the body or soak the worker's clothing in cold water.
All of these are preventable through prevention measures, such as:
Wear sunscreen when working outdoors
If working in the sun, wear a hat with a wide brim
Drink small amounts of water frequently
Wear light-colored, loose-fitting, breathable clothing
Take frequent short breaks in cool shade
Eat small meals before work activity
Avoid caffeine, sugar, and alcohol
Work in the shade if possible
Listen to workers and watch them for signs of the above heat-related conditions