With summer right around the corner, we thought it would only be fitting to discuss the dangers of occupational heat exposure. As the temperatures begin to rise, so does the risk for conditions like heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), thousands of workers succumb to heat stroke each year, attesting to the need for greater awareness. So, what steps can you take to reduce the risk of occupational heat illness?
Occupational heat may occur either indoors or outdoors. As noted by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) jobs that involve hot temperatures, radiant heat sources, high humidity, contact with hot objects, and/or strenuous physical activity have a higher risk of developing heat illness. Some of the workplaces in which heat illness is common include construction, metal foundries, rubber factories, commercial kitchens, laundries, food canneries, plants, mines, smelters and steam tunnels.
But just because you don't work in one of these industries doesn't necessarily mean that you are safe from the effects of occupational heat.
Of course, the greatest threat of occupational heat illness comes from being outdoors. When workers are forced to endure temperatures in excess of 100 degrees Fahrenheit, they place themselves at risk for developing heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Heat exhaustion is characterized by a loss of moisture and electrolytes within the body, at which point the worker may feel nauseous and fatigues.
Heat stroke is a more severe condition in which the worker's internal body temperature continues to rise uncontrollably. Unless the worker takes steps to cool his or her body temperature down, heat stroke can prove fatal.
Here are some tips to reduce the risk of occupational heat illness:
- Set up large oscillating fans in your workplace to help circulate the air.
- Drink plenty of water before, during and after your work shift.
- If possible, work during the early morning and late evening/night hours instead of the mid-day.
- Use a buddy system in which another worker monitors you for signs of occupational heat illness and you monitor him or her.
- Wear light, breathable clothing.
- Take regular breaks during work to allow your body to cool off.