Keeping Workers Safe in Extreme Heat

06/22/2016 08:00:00


Today marks the first day of summer and, not coincidentally, its 90 degrees or above in much of the country right now. Depending on the industry, business owners and facility managers may have to pay special attention to comfort cooling to keep employees safe and protect against the effects of heat stress. There are varying levels of heat stress and the symptoms could range from cramps all of the way to death. Here are several conditions caused by heat stress that you and your employees will certainly want to be aware of in order to reduce risk:

Heat Stroke: This is the most dangerous condition caused by heat stress. This occurs when the body reaches temperatures above 104⁰F, and it is very important to seek medical attention immediately if symptoms of heat stroke are present. The most common signs of heat stroke include loss of consciousness, mental confusion, and seizures. Your body might stop sweating as well. It is possible to die from heat stroke, so it shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Heat Exhaustion: Below heath stroke on the severity list is heat exhaustion. If a worker is experiencing symptoms of heat exhaustion, he or she may have a body temperature that is approaching 104⁰F, so it is possible that heat exhaustion could potentially turn into heat stroke if the condition isn’t managed. Heat exhaustion is characterized by nausea, heavy sweating, thirst, irritability, slight mental confusion, weakness, and dizziness.

Heat Cramps: This is a very common condition caused by the loss of key electrolytes and fluids through heavy sweating. You might notice that athletes typically take a sports drink that includes some combination of electrolytes and carbohydrates to replace those that are sweated out. They do this to prevent heat cramps so their performance isn’t affected.

Heat Rash: Finally, the last and most common condition caused by the heat is something called heat rash. If you have ever experienced blisters on your neck or chest, you may have had heat rash. Heat rash is caused by heavy sweating from the heat. It is not life-threatening, but it could be painful so it should be avoided whenever possible.

How to Protect against the Effects of Heat

Luckily, there are some very simple ways to prevent heat stress. First and foremost, always have cooling equipment available to control temperature. If the system is over capacity or needs to be repaired, be sure to have temporary equipment to manage the load. For example, renting spot coolers could be a good idea to bring direct cooling relief to workers on a particularly hot day.

Another easy way to prevent heat stress is to be smart with scheduling. Schedule strenuous work on parts of the day when it may not be as hot, such as the early morning or evening. Make sure employees take frequent breaks so they don’t overly exert themselves. Finally, have water always on-hand, cool compresses to decrease body temperature, and other items that could prevent heat stress. And if someone is experiencing the symptoms outlined above, remove them from the heat immediately and seek medical attention if necessary.

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