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April 22, 2015
Workers who believe these heat illness myths are at increased risk

Heat illness is on the rise in recent years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently reported that hospitalizations for heat stress have increased 2 percent to 5 percent in 20 states, including California, for the period of 2001–2010.

California had a relatively low incidence rate—1.3 hospitalizations per 100,000 residents—but also reported the highest number of heat stress illness cases for the entire period, at 5,385. Some of those illnesses might have been prevented if workers had known better than to believe the myths below.

Background on heat illness prevention

Who needs to be trained? General Industry Safety Orders (GISO) Section 3395 requires that employers complete heat illness training for all workers and supervisors before they begin working outdoors in the heat.

Why train workers in heat illness prevention? Heat illness is potentially deadly and can be difficult to predict because susceptibility varies from worker to worker. Heat illness is also hard to identify because symptoms can sometimes be subtle. Training can improve your employees’ odds of working safely in hot conditions.

Myths about heat illness prevention

Instructions to Trainer: Misinformation can be as dangerous as no information at all. Make sure workers know these heat illness myths to reduce their risk of falling victim to heat illness.

Working outdoors in the heat is extra stressful. There’s the stress from whatever work you’re doing, and then there’s the stress on your body created by the need to shed heat. You know you need to protect yourself. But some of what you’ve heard about preventing heat illness, identifying heat illness, and treating heat illness might be wrong.

Here are some heat illness myths identified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) that can be real killers:

Myth #1: The difference between heat exhaustion and heat stroke is that when you’re having heat stroke, you don’t sweat.

Not true! Heat stroke victims may continue to sweat. A worker experiencing symptoms of heat stroke—confusion, loss of consciousness, seizures, high body temperature—whether the person is sweating or not, is having a life-threatening emergency! Call 911, and try to cool the worker down.

Put urine color charts that compare the urine color of a hydrated person with that of a dehydrated person near your toilet facilities so workers can check their hydration.

Myth #2: Taking a break in air conditioning will ruin your acclimatization.

Not true! You can usually maintain your acclimatization for a few days of nonheat exposure, so taking a break in an air conditioned area will not reduce your level of acclimatization. Air conditioning is a very effective way to cool down in a fairly short period of time, so go ahead and sit where it’s cool when you’re taking a break.

Myth #3: Acclimatization will protect you during a heat wave.

Not true! You become acclimatized—adjusted to hot conditions and gotten more efficient at shedding excess heat—when you are exposed to extreme environmental conditions over a 7- to 10-day period. However, during heat waves, air temperatures rise above normal quickly, and it will take time for you to acclimatize to the new, hotter temperatures.

During a heat wave, you will need more breaks and may need to reschedule some of the harder and hotter job tasks until the heat wave passes. Cal/OSHA has special, additional heat illness prevention procedures that apply during heat waves, which it calls “high heat procedures.”

Myth #4: Salt tablets are a great way to restore electrolytes lost during sweating.

Not true! Never use salt tablets unless directed by your doctor. You can easily overdose on salt with the tablets, and that can cause nausea and vomiting—which can worsen your level of dehydration. Most people can restore electrolytes through normal meals and snacks. Make sure you drink plenty of water with your meals and snacks, both to stay hydrated and to aid digestion.

Conclusion

A lot of workers prefer working outdoors to being stuck inside all day—but when it’s hot outside, they need to know their risk and how to stay safe. Debunking these myths can help them keep their cool.

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