Every July, my safety article is crafted to remind our members of the health hazards we face when working in hot environments, basic protocols to identify and react to heat exhaustion, or heat stroke, and documentation necessary to comply with OSHA’s regulations.
Exposure to heat can lead to headaches, cramps, dizziness, fatigue, nausea or vomiting, and even seizures or death. From 2012 to 2018, a total of 42 people received benefits through Oregon’s workers’ compensation system for heat-related illnesses (HRI).
Following Federal OSHA’s initial HRI campaign, WA-DOSH adopted specific regulations and OR-OSHA established a new emphasis program, both in which enforcement officers, as part of every inspection, will assess employers efforts to prevent heat-related illnesses.
Introduce COVID-19 exposure controls to the workplace, and now your contractor’s HRI prevention program will have to take into account the impact of wearing face coverings, masks and, in certain situations, face shields to potential overheating of workers.
While the daily use of these types of barriers is a something new for us, standard prevention steps remain the same. These include:
- Perform the heaviest, most labor-intensive work during the coolest part of the day.
- Use the buddy system to monitor each other’s response to working in the heat.
- Drink plenty of cool water.
- Wear light, loose-fitting, and breathable clothing.
- Take frequent short breaks in cool, shaded areas – allow your body to cool down.
- Avoid eating large meals before working in hot environments.
- Avoid caffeinated drinks, especially energy drinks, as these make the body lose water and increase the risk of heat illnesses.
To help those suffering from heat exhaustion:
- Move them to a cool, shaded area. Do not leave them alone.
- Loosen and remove heavy clothing.
- Provide cool water to drink if they are not feeling sick to their stomach.
- Try to cool them by fanning them.
- Cool the skin with a spray mist of cold water or a wet cloth.
- If they do not feel better in a few minutes, call 911 for emergency help.
Employers can also calculate the heat index for their worksite with the federal OSHA Heat Stress App for mobile phones to assist in planning of daily work and prevention strategies.