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June 28, 2013
Are your workers prepared for a heat wave?

With temperatures having already reached the 90s in Alaska and nearing 120º F in Nevada, the summer of 2013 is shaping up to be a scorcher. Have you properly prepared your employees and supervisors to know and respond to the signs of heat illness?

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According to OSHA, thousands of workers become sick from exposure to heat every year, and some die. The good news is that with the proper preparation and training, illnesses and deaths can be prevented.

Workers exposed to hot and humid conditions are at risk of heat illness—especially those doing heavy work or using bulky protective clothing and equipment. Some workers are at greater risk because they have not built up a tolerance to hot conditions.

The body normally cools itself by sweating. But during hot weather—especially with high humidity—sweating isn’t enough, and body temperature can rise to dangerous levels. Heat illnesses range from heat rash and heat cramps to heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Preventing heat illness

The three key words are water, rest, and shade. Educate your workers about how drinking water often, taking breaks, and limiting time in the heat and sun can prevent heat illness. Make sure to build up gradually to heavy work in hot conditions so workers become acclimated. During the first week of working in hot temperatures, gradually increase workloads, and allow more frequent breaks.

Know these symptoms of heat-related illness:

  • Heat exhaustion—symptoms include wet skin, headache, weakness and dizziness, nausea and vomiting, and sometimes cramps. Move the worker to a cool environment, remove or loosen clothing, and increase fluids.
  • Heatstroke—can be characterized by an absence of sweating, along with an extremely high body temperature, confusion, loss of consciousness, and/or convulsions. Reduce the body’s temperature as quickly as possible with cool water or a sponge bath, and fan the body surface. Contact a physician immediately.

OSHA emphasizes that acting quickly can save lives. Make sure your workers and supervisors know what to look for and how to stay cool this summer.

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