Anyone who works outside during the summer months needs to take precautions to avoid heat stress – especially in the St. Louis area where the heat index can often top 100 degrees.
Exposure to extreme heat can result in occupational illnesses and injuries. Heat stress can result in heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, or heat rashes. Heat can also increase the risk of injuries in workers as it may result in sweaty palms, fogged-up safety glasses, and dizziness.
WHO’S AT RISK?
Workers at risk of heat stress include outdoor workers and workers in hot environments such as firefighters, bakery workers, farmers, construction workers, miners, boiler room workers, factory workers, and others.
Workers at greater risk of heat stress include those who are 65 years of age or older, are overweight, have heart disease or high blood pressure, or take medications that may be affected by extreme heat.
WHAT’S THE RISK?
Heat stress can result in heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat syncope (a fainting episode), heat cramps or heat rashes. Heat stroke is by far the most serious heat-related disorder and can cause death or permanent disability. Symptoms of heat stroke include:
- Hot, dry skin or profuse sweating
- Throbbing headache
- High body temperature
- Slurred speech
If you suspect a coworker is suffering from heat strong, take the following steps to treat them:
- Call 911 and notify their supervisor.
- Move the sick worker to a cool shaded area.
- Cool the worker by soaking their clothes with water, spraying, sponging them or showering them with water and fanning their body.
When possible, workers should avoid extreme heat, sun exposure and high humidity. But when the circumstances can’t be avoided, workers should take the following precautions:
- Wear light-colored, loose-fitting, breathable clothing such as cotton. Avoid non-breathing, synthetic clothing. Additionally, be aware that protective clothing or personal protective equipment may increase the risk of heat stress.
- Gradually build up to heavy work.
- Schedule heavy work during the coolest parts of day.
- Take more breaks in extreme heat and humidity in the shade or a cool area when possible.
- Drink water frequently – about 1 cup every 15-20 minutes.
- Avoid alcohol and drinks with large amounts of caffeine or sugar.
- Be aware that protective clothing or personal protective equipment may increase the risk of heat stress.
- Monitor your physical condition and that of your coworkers.
(National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the Centers for Disease Control.)