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ASSE Offers Tips on How to Prevent Heat-Related Illness For Workers

Posted in on Tue, Jul 12, 2011

Des Plaines, IL (July 12, 2011) — As heat can cause workplace injuries and illness it is important for workers to be protected against the heat, sun exposure and other hazards that could result in severe injury, especially during the recent heat wave that much of America is experiencing.  The American Society of Safety Engineers, a 100-year-old safety society with more than 34,000 occupational safety, health and environmental professional members, suggests employers and employees be aware of the factors that can lead to heat stress; the symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke; preventing heat stress;  and, what can be done for heat-related illnesses which can be deadly.

Each year, thousands of outdoor workers experience heat illness, which often manifests as heat exhaustion. If not quickly addressed, heat exhaustion can become heat stroke, which killed more than 30 workers last year, according to the U. S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

First, when one’s body is unable to cool itself by sweating, according to OSHA, several heat-induced illnesses such as heat stress or exhaustion and the more severe heat stroke can occur, and can result in death. Factors leading to these conditions include high temperatures; being in direct sun or heat; limited air movement; physical exertion; poor physical condition; some medicines; and, inadequate tolerance for hot workplaces.

According to the Mayo Clinic, heatstroke is a life-threatening condition that occurs when your body temperature reaches 104 F (40 C) or higher. Heatstroke can be brought on by high environmental temperatures, by strenuous physical activity or by other conditions that raise your body temperature. Whatever the cause, the Clinic notes; immediate medical attention to prevent brain damage, organ failure or death is needed.

“Heat and humidity can be a serious safety threat to all workers during the summer – from utility workers; to agriculture, construction and roadway workers,” ASSE President Terrie S. Norris, CSP, ARM, said today. “People should act quickly when they begin to feel these symptoms.”

Headaches, dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting; weakness and moist skin; mood changes such as irritability or confusion and upset stomach and vomiting are symptoms of heat exhaustion.

Symptoms of heat stroke include dry, hot skin with no sweating; mental confusion or losing consciousness; and, seizures or convulsions.

To prevent heat stress, officials suggest you monitor your co-workers and yourself. Prevention efforts include blocking out direct sun or other heat sources; using cooling fans or air conditioning; and, to rest regularly. It is important to drink lots of water, about one cup every 15 minutes; and, to wear lightweight, light colored, loose-fitting clothes.

It is also recommended that if one is in the sun to avoid alcohol, caffeinated drinks and heavy meals. According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), heat can also cause injury due to accidents related to sweaty palms, fogged up glasses and dizziness.  Sunburns are also a hazard of sun and heat exposure.

Suggested 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 hardhats or around the neck to keep the head and neck cool. Vented hardhats or neckbands soaked in cold water can also 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, 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 are also good for replacing fluid in the body but use should be monitored due to the high sodium content.

A recent Professional Safety journal article titled ‘Heat Stress – Improving safety in the Arabian Gulf oil and gas industry’ describes what one company did in the State of Qatar to index the severity of the heat-related illness problem and the preventive work practices provided workers that resulted 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., noted that in Qatar reducing heat-related work stress 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/safety tips were posted at key work 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. Employee training for new and existing employees and contractors to explain heat stress symptoms, the heat index system, the color coding and the controls implemented was ongoing. The program was recognized as a significant positive work practice during a recent company audit.

Founded in 1911 and celebrating its centennial, the Des Plaines, IL-based ASSE is the oldest professional safety society and is committed to protecting people, property and the environment. Its more than 34,000 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 www.asse.org/newsroom for more information, to NIOSH’s heat safety web page at www.cdc.gov/niosh/blog/nsb071408_summerheat.html  and to OSHA’s heat safety work tips at http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatillness/index.html.

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