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Hot Weather Increases Risk of Overexposure

Originally posted July 01, 2013 by Jim Bocci on https://www.duralabel.com

In June, a Boy Scout leader died and several scouts became ill while hiking near Lake Mead outside Las Vegas, Nevada.  The cause for the incident was overexposure to heat.

Summer months are here, which means most of us will be exposed to hot environments both indoors and outdoors. Those working in agriculture, construction, foundries, bakeries, mining sites, on road crews or any other occupation that involves exposure to extreme heat need to be even more aware of the dangers the warmer weather brings to the work environment. Let’s take a look at some of those factors and identify what can be done by individual workers and managers to ensure everyone is proactive and protected against what can quickly and quietly become a deadly situation.

The Biology of Heat Exposure

First, let’s look at the biology behind heat exposure. When the surrounding environment surpasses the body’s core temperature, the body increases blood circulation to the skin and releases moisture through sweat. If the body can’t get rid of excess heat quickly enough perspiration, its core temperature will continue to rise and heart rate will increase. If this process of overheating continues, concentration and judgment can become impaired.

This is where the situation can spiral quickly downward. Workers who are beginning to show signs of heat exhaustion may not realize it because their judgment and awareness is clouded, and this is where heat-related illness and heightened potential for accidents and injury can occur. If the heat exhaustion is not recognized and treated, the worker’s condition will begin to decline into more severe heat stroke.

Identifying the Signs

Recognizing the warning signs of overexposure is critical to preventing serious injury or even death. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include pale skin, excessive sweating, headache, dizziness, and blurred vision. In cases of more severe heat stroke, the skin reddens, there is no sweating and speech and awareness may be confused or even incoherent.

Responding to Heat Exhaustion

If you feel you are experiencing the adverse effects of heat exhaustion or you sense a co-worker or crew member is, take these actions:

  • Seek out a cool, shaded location to rest.
  • Loosen or remove unnecessary clothing.
  • Hydrate and sponge or shower with cool water.
  • Seek medical attention.

Responding to Heat Stroke

If more serious heat stroke is suspected, it’s recommended that you take these actions immediately:

  • Seek a cool, shaded place for the victim.
  • Call 911 immediately, or seek medical support if available on-site.
  • Aggressively cool the body with sponging or a shower.
  • Do not administer anything orally, including water. With heat stroke, the body is effectively shutting down its cooling properties and organ functions. Fifty percent of severe heat stroke victims die, even after receiving medical attention.

Heat Overexposure Prevention and Training

Workers should recognize beginning symptoms of heat exposure in themselves as well as their co-workers. Here are some tips for avoiding overexposure to heat:

  • Hydrate before, during, and after exposure.
  • Eat foods high in potassium, such bananas.
  • Take salt tablets to help retain fluids.
  • Wear clothing that also allows your body to stay cool. If possible wear breathable microfiber clothing.
  • Wear lighter colored clothing, which absorbs less light and heat than dark colors.
  • In severe cases of exposure to heat, specialized PPE such as cooling vests can be worn.

Managers and safety professionals should ensure that workers are properly trained in reducing the risk of heat exposure and how to recognize it in others. Schedule shifts with opportunities for relief through breaks, and provide access to hydration.  If workers are inside, provide adequate ventilation, and air movement.

Be aware of special medical conditions. High blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, asthma, poor physical condition, and age can all factor into the heat tolerance equation. On-site labeling and signage reminding workers of symptoms and preventative measures can also help reduce risk of heat overexposure.

Stay cool. Don’t let the summer weather increase your risk for exposure to extreme heat. For more information, access the Workerssection on the OSHA website.