Employees performing work activities in extreme heat or hot environments with a heat index of 90°F or above may be at risk of heat stress. Exposure to such heat can result in heat cramps, heat exhaustion, or heat stroke. Each has its own symptoms and treatment. Heat exposure can also increase the risk of injuries as it may result in sweaty palms, fogged-up safety glasses, and dizziness.
Employees at greater risk of heat stress include those who are 65 years of age or older, overweight, use of alcohol or drugs, have heart disease or high blood pressure, or take medications that may be affected by extreme heat. However, it is difficult to predict exactly who or when someone will be affected by heat.
According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS), heat exposure contributed to 37 work-related deaths and 2,830 nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses in 2015. Nearly 90 percent (33) of the deaths occurred from June through September.
The key to heat stress is training and prevention! It is important for employees to be trained and understand the severity of heat stress, how it affects their health and safety, how it can be prevented, and what to do in the event of a heat stress disorder.
SIGNS, SYMPTOMS, & FIRST AID
Heat Cramps - affect workers who sweat heavily during a strenuous activity by depleting body salt levels in muscles causing painful cramps.
- Symptoms: muscle twitching and painful spasms in the legs, arms, or abdomen. Apply firm pressure or gently massage to affected muscles.
- First Aid Measures: move victim to a cool environment, loosen clothing, continue to administer cool water until rehydrated, and seek medical advice before returning to work.
Heat Exhaustion - is the most common heat related illness and occurs as the body responds to an excessive loss of water and salt levels through excessive sweating.
- Symptoms: dizziness, fatigue, headache, breathlessness, thirst, clammy skin, profuse perspiration, elevated body temperature, and tingling sensations in the hands or feet.
- First Aid Measures: move the victim to a cooler environment, position the victim on his or her back and elevate the legs 8 to 12 inches. Loosen the victim’s clothing and apply cool, moist cloths to the body, or fan the victim. Continue to administer water until rehydrated, and seek medical advice before returning to work.
Heat Stroke - is the most serious heat related illness because it can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not given! Occurs when the body is no longer able to cool itself.
- Symptoms:dry, hot skin, no sweat, rapid pulse, bluish or red skin color, high body temperature (105°F or more), mental confusion and unconsciousness.
- First Aid Measures: dial 911 or refer to the platform’s emergency evacuation procedures and seek immediate medical assistance. Do not offer the victim any stimulants, such as tea, coffee or alcoholic beverages. Give the victim water if victim is conscious and can swallow. Move the victim to a cooler environment. Remove outer clothing and then do one of the following: sponge the victim continuously with cool water, repeatedly administer cold packs, immerse in a tub of cool water, if no water is available, fan the victim vigorously to increase cooling.
PREVENTIONHydration: Sweating results in water loss and is one of the ways your body cools itself down. The only way to replace the loss is to drink water frequently. It is recommended a person should drink at least 8 ounces of water every 20-30 minutes while working in hot environments. Avoid stimulants such as tea coffee, energy drinks, soft drinks, or other caffeinated drinks. It is also recommended to avoid drinks that contains electrolytes with meals due to the possibility of causing stomach issues.
Acclimatization: Employees exposed to extreme heat should gradually get use to their environment over a one-two week period. This means that on your first week in a hot environment, you may only be able to do half the work that a fully adapted worker would do. Each day, your workload increases slightly until you are able to operate at full capacity.
Rest Breaks: When heat related illnesses become a threat, 10-20 minute breaks should be taken every 2 hours at a minimum. Engine rooms or other areas where temperatures exceed the norm will require additional breaks and or precautions. Allow the body to cool down before beginning again.
Buddy System: Utilize the buddy system where workers can observe each other and watch for signs and symptoms related to heat stress.
Engineering Controls: Engineering controls such as fans, ventilators, exhaust systems, and air coolant or conditioning systems.
Training: Use this safety topic and/or other heat stress related topics and material to frequently coach, train, and educate personnel. Both employees and supervisors should know how to recognize the signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses and administra¬tion of first aid.
Urine Color Chart: Post and use the attached urine chart in restrooms and in readily visible places to help workers determine level of dehydration and actions to take to get the body back to normal level of hydration. Proper water intake is a key to prevention.
OSHA-NIOSH Heat Safety Tool App: An app for planning outdoor work activities to help keep workers safe when working in hot weather. It features real-time heat index and hourly forecasts, specific to your location, as well as safety and health recommendations. The mobile app is free and available on both Apple and Android devices. Be sure to follow customer’s policy in regards to use and possession of electronic devices (i.e. cell phones and tablets) on work locations.
Stop Work Authority (SWA): Stop Work Authority should be used whenever conditions warrant the need for intervention of workers who are experiencing complications related to heat stress. Workers suffering from heat stress may no longer be able to make logical decisions. Sound reasoning and logic is not something we can expect from someone suffering from the later stages of heat stress. If you, a co-worker, or observe anyone else suffering from symptoms related to heat stress, STOP THE JOB immediately and seek medical attention!