American Society of Safety Engineers Address The Importance of On-The-Job Heat Protection
Des Plaines, IL (August 8, 2008) — As many work under searing heat this summer, the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) is providing tips on how to prevent heat-related illnesses and injuries during hot weather and outlines how one company addressed and implemented a successful heat stress prevention program.
The August 2008 ASSE Professional Safety article titled ‘Heat Stress – Improving safety in the Arabian Gulf oil and gas industry’ describes the situation in the State of Qatar and what one company did to index the severity of the problem and the preventive work practices provided to workers resulting in a reduction of heat-stress-related medical treatments. The authors, ASSE member Oliver F. McDonald, CSP, CIH; Nigel J. Shanks, M.D., Ph.D.; and Laurent Fragu, M.S., note that heat stress disorders span a spectrum from minor heat to heat exhaustion and heat stroke. They noted that the State of Qatar has banned midday working hours for certain employees during the hottest times of the year due to the threat of heat-related disorders.
The article states, “Heat stroke is a medical emergency that results from complete loss of thermoregulatory control. As the ambient temperature climbs higher than 95 degrees F, virtually all heat loss is accomplished by sweating. As the ambient relative humidity exceeds 75 percent, the rate of evaporation decreases drastically and sweating becomes an ineffective means of dissipating heat. Without effective heat dissipation, body temperature rises, potentially leading to heat-related disorders. Organ damage becomes evident as tissue temperatures approach 107 degrees F. Heat, humidity, and lack of air movement are conducive to heat stress.”
The authors noted the practices used in Qatar to reduce heat-related stress to workers included: allowing workers to become acclimated to the heat; using engineering controls such as cooling, ventilation and shading – difficult due to the daily change in environments; providing personal protective equipment (PPE) such as umbrellas and evaporative bandanas; constant distribution of water in insulated water bottles; work scheduling; employee rotation; self-evaluation; using the buddy system; working in shade and shielding; area cooling; ventilation and mechanical assistance; water stations placed inside or near rest areas; and, mandatory water breaks.
In addition, heat stress communication materials were posted at key locations and colored flags alerting workers to the heat index were flown above the work projects. Materials for the workers were available in several languages as well as providing employee training to new and existing employees and contractors to explain heat stress symptoms, the heat index system, the color coding and the controls implemented.
The program proved successful and was recognized as a significant work practice during a recent company audit.
In the U.S., according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2005, 47 people died from exposure to environmental heat. 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. Exposure to heat can also cause heat cramps and rashes, heat stroke and heat exhaustion. The symptoms include confusion; irrational behavior; loss of consciousness; hot, dry skin; and abnormally high body temperatures.
ASSE offers the following additional tips for employees and employers aimed at avoiding heat-related illnesses and injuries:
· Use cooling pads that can be inserted into hardhats or around the neck to keep the head and neck cool. Vented hardhats or neckbands soaked in cold water 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 can also 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 airglow 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, as OSHA recommends.
· For workers exposed to extreme heat, proper hand protection from burns depends on the temperature and type of work to which workers are exposed.
· Drink water. To prevent dehydration, another hazard associated with exposure to heat, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (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 which actually deplete body fluid.
Founded in 1911, the Des Plaines, IL-based ASSE is the largest and oldest professional safety organization and is committed to protecting people, property and the environment. Its more than 30,000 occupational safety, health and environmental professional members manage, supervise, research and consult on safety, health, transportation and environmental issues in all industries, government, labor and education. Go to http://www.asse.org/newsroom/docs/heatstresspsarticle808.pdf for a copy of the Professional Safety article and to ASSE’s website at http://www.asse.org for more information.