HR Elements Content provided by United Benefit Advisors
With apologies to Buster Poindexter, it’s never good if you’re feeling hot, hot, hot. Heat-related deaths while on the job can happen to anyone, and are completely preventable, but who do you think it happens to most often? Good guesses might be older workers, police officers, firefighters, construction workers, landscapers, or road crews. But the correct answer, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) are people who had been working at a particular job for three days or less.
As strange as it may seem, new employees, or workers returning to a job after a while, need to review safety precautions on how to protect themselves from the heat. Obvious measures include drinking plenty of water (not a caffeinated beverage), taking frequent breaks, and staying out of direct sunlight, but that’s not enough. For new employees and those who are returning to work after a period of time off, it’s just as important, according to OSHA, that they increase their workload gradually while their body builds up a tolerance to the heat.
While it’s true that one-third of all heat-related deaths while on the job happen to construction workers, people who work indoors are not immune from this risk. In an article on the Society for Human Resource Management’s website titled, “New Workers Are at Highest Risk for Heat-Related Death,” indoor employees who perform work that’s strenuous, wear bulky, protective clothing, or use heavy machinery can also suffer from heat-related issues. Regardless of where a person works — indoors or outdoors – high humidity raises the chance for heat exhaustion or even heat stroke.
So, what are the symptoms of heat stroke? According to the website WebMD, the major symptom is a core body temperature above 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Since that’s not easy to determine at a worksite, fainting may be the first sign. Other symptoms may include a throbbing headache, dizziness and light-headedness, lack of sweating despite the heat, red, hot, and dry skin, muscle weakness or cramps, nausea and vomiting, rapid heartbeat, which may be either strong or weak, rapid, shallow breathing, behavioral changes such as confusion, disorientation, or staggering, seizures, and unconsciousness.
Under OSHA’s general duty clause, employers are responsible for protecting workers from hazards on the job, including extreme heat. To prevent heat-related illness and fatalities, OSHA has many suggestions, which can be found on its website. Among those suggestions are preparing a heat acclimatization plan and medical monitoring program, encouraging workers to drink about one cup of water every 15-20 minutes, even if they say they’re not thirsty, providing shaded or air-conditioned rest areas, providing workers with protective equipment and clothing, ensuring that workers and supervisors are familiar with the signs of heat-related illness and how to respond when it’s observed.