Many of your workers are exposed to heat stress, and not just the ones with outdoor jobs like construction workers, fleet drivers, and lawn maintenance employees. Heat stress affects employees who work indoors too, like those in commercial kitchens, warehouses and factories. As an employer, under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (“OSHA”), it is your duty to provide your employees with a safe work environment free from recognized hazards. It is an employee’s right to work in such an environment. Consequently, if your employees are in an environment where heat stress is present, you must provide them with training, personal protective equipment and work-rest cycles that will alleviate or remove the hazard, which in this case is heat. If not properly managed, heat stress can lead to a myriad of conditions–two of which are Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke.
Heat Exhaustion is the body’s response to an excessive loss of water and salt, usually through excessive sweating. Workers most prone to Heat Exhaustion are those that are elderly, overweight, and have high blood pressure or heart disease. Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion are headaches, dizziness, weakness, wet skin, heavy sweating, elevated body temperature, irritability, confusion and decreased urine output. It is important that you and your workers know these symptoms so that they can be properly treated once recognized. This is because If not properly managed, Heat Exhaustion can quickly transition into Heat Stroke.
Heat Stroke is the most serious of the heat-related illnesses. This occurs when the body is unable to control its temperature. In Heat Stroke, the body temperature rises rapidly, the sweating mechanism fails and the body is simply unable to cool down. In some cases, body temperature can rise to 106 degrees Fahrenheit or higher within just 10 to 15 minutes. This condition can cause death. The symptoms to look out for are confusion, altered mental status, slurred speech, loss of consciousness, hot, dry skin and even seizures. It is vital that you and your workers know the difference between Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke in order to properly respond and treat symptoms.
If someone is exhibiting symptoms of Heat Exhaustion, lay them down in a ventilated area, have them drink water if they are fully conscious, spray them with cool water, fan them and constantly monitor the individual to ensure that they do not transition into Heat Stroke. On the other hand, if someone is showing signs of Heat Stroke, call 911 immediately, lay them down in a ventilated area, elevate feet, remove tight clothing, and cool them until help arrives.
As you may have already learned by this point, Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke are very serious medical conditions that should not be taken lightly and as an employer it is your duty to keep employees safe and out of the danger zone. Workers should be pre-hydrating by drinking plenty of fluids before they get to work. While on the job, workers should be drinking plenty of fluids–alternating between water and electrolyte beverages. They should be wearing loose, synthetic fabrics and acclimate to the heat slowly. You should also make personal protective equipment a part of the uniform. Items such as sunglasses with UV protection, hats with visors, and cooling pads should be required.
By familiarizing yourself and your workers with these symptoms and providing training and awareness on how to properly manage working in heat, you can avoid the many dangers of heat stress.
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