As part of its efforts to encourage outdoor workers to be prepared for exposure to heat and to prevent heat-related illnesses and injuries during the summer months, the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) urges employers and employees to take precautions and offers tips to protect against heat stress and exhaustion.
A worker can experience heat stress and exhaustion and other heat-induced illnesses and even death in situations when the body is no longer able to cool itself by sweating. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2005, 47 people died from exposure to environmental heat and five died from contact with a hot object or substance. In addition, in 2005, there were 2,610 nonfatal injuries and illnesses that resulted from exposure to environmental heat and 20 from exposure to sun radiation.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), several factors can lead to heat stress and exhaustion that include high temperatures and humidity, direct sun or heat exposure, limited movement of air, inadequate tolerance for hot workplaces, physical exertion and poor physical condition as well as some medicines.
According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), heat also can cause injury due to accidents related to sweaty palms, fogged up glasses and dizziness. Sunburns also are a hazard of sun and heat exposure.
Some tips for employees and employers to use in order to prevent heat-related illnesses and injuries include:
• Use cooling pads that can be inserted into hard hats or around the neck to keep the head and neck cool. Vented hard hats or neckbands soaked in cold water also can be used to minimize prolonged heat exposure and prevent the body from overheating.
• Wear protective eyewear that features sufficient ventilation or anti-fog lens coating to reduce lens fogging from the heat. Sweatbands also can be used to prevent perspiration from dripping into the eyes.
• Use gloves with leather palms and cotton or denim backs, which allow for an increased airflow and still protect hands. Also, choose gloves with a liner to absorb sweat preventing perspiration buildup. Some gloves also feature strips of nylon mesh or are perforated at the back of the hand for more airflow.
• Wear light-colored, loose-fitting, breathable clothing such as cotton, recommends OSHA.
• Take breaks in cooler shaded areas.
• For workers exposed to extreme heat, proper hand protection from burns depends on the temperature and type of work to which workers are exposed.
• To prevent dehydration, another hazard associated with exposure to heat, NIOSH recommends that workers drink five to seven ounces of fluids every 15 to 20 minutes. Drink cool water and avoid diuretics such as coffee, tea, alcohol or soda that actually deplete body fluid. Sports drinks also are good for replacing fluid in the body but use should be monitored due to the high sodium content.
For more information, visit www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatstress/index.html.