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It's Getting Hot in Here...

June 6, 2017

Now that Memorial Day has come and gone and people are thinking seriously about the summer, employers should again turn their attention to managing work in the summer heat. Challenges include:

 

  • How hot is too hot at work?
  • What should we do when it gets too hot for our employees at work?
  • What resources are available to help employees?

 

Although Massachusetts has guidelines on what it means to be too cold in the workplace, it does not define what is too hot. Employers are left to their own common sense and experience to determine what to do during the dog days.

 

According to the National Weather Service, heat is the number one weather-related killer of people in the United States. More people die per year from heat-related illness than from tornadoes, hurricanes, floods and lightning combined. Heat waves occur across the United States, but are often predicted in advance. Staying abreast of this information from the National Weather Service (www.weather.gov) will allow you the opportunity to plan for the impact within your organization.

 

If you have a workplace that is open to the weather, such as a loading dock, a warehouse, a construction site, an outdoor deck or patio for food service or even an outdoor exercise area or some other non-air conditioned site, you need to watch for heat disorders.

 

Heat disorders generally come from the inability of the body to remove heat by sweating, or from too much sweating. When heat gain exceeds what the body can deal with, or when the body cannot compensate for fluids and salt lost through perspiration, the body’s inner core temperature begins to rise and heat-related illness may develop.

 

Heat stroke is the most serious form of heat-related illness. It happens when the body becomes unable to regulate its core temperature. Sweating stops and the body can no longer rid itself of excess heat. Signs include confusion, loss of consciousness, red hot dry skin and seizures. Heat stroke is a medical emergency that may result in death. Call 911 immediately. 

 

If heat stroke happens, the following steps may save the workers lives:
 

  • place worker in a shady, cool area,
  • loosen clothing,
  • remove outer clothing,
  • fan air on worker;
  • place cold packs in armpits,
  • wet worker with cool water;
  • apply ice packs, cool compresses, or ice if available,
  • provide fluids (preferably water) as soon as possible, and
  • stay with the worker until help arrives.

 

Heat exhaustion is the body's response to loss of water and salt from heavy sweating. Signs include headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, irritability, thirst, light headedness and heavy sweating. In response to heat exhaustion have worker sit or lie down in a cool, shady area, drink plenty of water or other cool beverages, apply cold compresses/ice packs, take the employee to clinic or emergency room for medical evaluation or treatment if signs or symptoms worsen or do not improve within 60 minutes and do not have the worker return to work that day.

 

Heat cramps are caused by the loss of body salts and fluid during sweating. Low salt levels in muscles cause painful cramps. Tired muscles—those used for performing the work—are usually the ones most affected by cramps. Cramps may occur during or after working hours. In response to heat cramps, have the worker rest in shady, cool area, drink water or other cool beverages, wait a few hours before allowing worker to return to strenuous work, and have the worker seek medical attention if cramps don't go away.

 

Heat rash, also known as prickly heat, is skin irritation caused by sweat that does not evaporate from the skin. Heat rash is the most common problem in hot work environments. If an employee develops heat rash, try to have the worker work in a cooler, less humid environment when possible and keep the affected area dry. 

 

OSHA has developed an app to make it easier for you to determine the extent of the heat on your workers. 

 

The aap allows employers to calculate the heat index for their worksites, and, based on the heat index, displays a risk level to outdoor workers. You can get reminders about the protective measures that should be taken at that risk level to protect workers from heat-related illness - reminders about drinking enough fluids, scheduling rest breaks, planning for and knowing what to do in an emergency, adjusting work operations, gradually building up the workload for new workers, and training on heat-illness signs and symptoms.

 

More resources are available on OSHA’s website in English and Spanish: www.osha.gov/heat. OSHA also has a fact sheet on working outdoors in hot conditions.

 

OSHA is also partnering with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to incorporate worker safety precautions when heat alerts are issued across the nation. NOAA, which recently announced its own campaign to address extreme heat – Heat Awareness Day – will also include worker safety information on its heat watch web page. If you have questions, call OSHA at 1-800-321-OSHA (6742). Or visit www.osha.gov to learn more about its resources for dealing with the heat

 

What Can You Do to Reduce the Risk of Heat Danger?

 

Encourage your employees to adopt some of the following health tips to manage the heat.  Education, planning and reacting to the conditions will assure safety during the hot events of summer.
 

  • Allow your employees to slow down. If possible, limit strenuous activities to the coolest time of the day, perhaps first thing in the morning or when the sun is not directly on your work site. Consider extending break periods or adding a break period to ease the heat risk during certain days.
  • Dress appropriately for summer. Lightweight, light-colored clothing reflects heat and sunlight, and helps your body maintain normal temperatures.
  • Encourage employees to drink plenty of water or other non-alcohol fluids even if they may not feel thirsty - their body needs water to keep cool.  Consider purchasing bottles of water and sports drinks for the team to ensure hydration.
  • Allow employees to spend as much time as possible in air-conditioned places. If the workplace doesn’t allow for AC, consider fans to keep the air circulating and encourage employees to work in the shade if possible. 
  • Remind your employees that diet matters. The heavier the meal, the more a body works to digest it and the greater the water loss, causing a greater risk of heat problems.

 

Finally, make sure your employees watch out for one another. If they recognize a co-worker suffering with the heat, depending on the symptoms, urge them call 911, their supervisor or HR to get help.

 

As always, if you have questions about this or other HR relations issues please contact the AIM Employer Hotline at 1-800-470-6277.

 

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