It's summertime and the livin’ is easy—unless you’re one of the millions of Americans who work in hot environments. Every year, thousands of workers are exposed to occupational heat exposure, and many die. Most of these deaths are preventable. Beat the heat and learn about the risks to stay productive and cool at work all summer long.
WHY IS HEAT DANGEROUS?
A little bit of heat can be pleasant, but a lot of heat causes the body to increase blood flow and sweat in an effort to maintain a stable internal temperature. The human body is built to adapt, but as the temperature of the outside air grows closer to the body’s internal temperature, it becomes more difficult to cool down. If the body can’t get rid of the excess heat, it begins to store it, exposing the body to a myriad of heat-related illnesses, even death.
WHAT IS TOO HOT?
The heat index set by the US Department of Labor puts the lowest level of caution below 91 degrees Fahrenheit and the highest level above 115 degrees. By these standards, once the temperature begins to rise above 100 degrees it is time to implement precautions. It’s also important to be aware of the common warning signs associated with extreme heat like:
● Increased humidity
● Still air
● Clear sky
ARE YOU AT RISK?
Different occupations are at different levels of risk for heat exposure. Jobs that involve physical exertion (often outside under the sun) like farmers, construction workers and landscapers are far more susceptible to heat related illnesses. However, just because you’re not working outside does not mean you aren’t at risk. Jobs that require you to operate, or be around, lots of electronic equipment, even computers, can cause excess heat exposure if they aren’t properly cooled and ventilated. Understand the environment that you work in, and assess your level of risk.
If you work in an occupation that is affected by heat exposure, a few basic safety measures can drastically reduce your risk. If you work with equipment, make sure the most up-to-date engineering controls are installed to control ventilation and air conditioning when necessary. If you work in a physically intensive job, be sure to take water breaks and schedule the most physically laborious portion of work for the cooler parts of the day. You can build up a tolerance for working in warmer conditions, but it has to happen gradually.
HEAT RELATED FIRST AID
If a worker is suffering from heat exhaustion or heat stroke, call 911 immediately. Then, give them water, a shaded area to sit and cool damp towels while you wait for help. The priority should be to lower the victim's internal body temperature and keep them calm.
Occupational heat exposure kills hundreds of workers every year and affects thousands. Heat related illnesses are completely preventable, and if you take the time to educate yourself about occupational heat exposure and apply the basic tenets discussed above, your work place will never have to deal with its adverse effects.