Protect Employees from the Summer Heat with these Workplace Safety Training Tips
Nearly halfway through one of the hottest summers on record, and much of the nation continues to bake, putting millions at risk of heat stress at work and home. Since the start of the heat wave, the United States has broken more than 2,300 heat records.
Hospitals around the country, especially in the southwest, are reporting higher numbers of heat-related illnesses and deaths. According to the CDC, for several days in June, the rates of emergency department visits for heat-related illnesses in Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, and Oklahoma were the highest in this region in the past five years.
Medical experts say the numbers could be higher if you connect accidents and other illnesses to the excessive heat. Prolonged exposure to the heat can impair cognitive functions, leading to work-related injuries and resulting in heart attacks or strokes at home after a long day in the sun or sweltering indoor conditions.
Sometimes, workplace safety training can be the best defense against heat-related stress. Employees are better equipped to protect themselves and coworkers if they know the signs of heat stress and understand how to react.
Teach the basics
Training can start with the basics of heat protection, helping employees understand how the body works when exposed to extreme heat. Some people don’t understand the connection between water and the body’s ability to function. They should know hydration is more than quenching their thirst.
In hot conditions, the human body increases blood flow and produces sweat to help dissipate the heat. That sweat also expels water needed for the normal operation of your muscles and internal organs.
The body can’t efficiently cool itself if you don’t replenish this lost water. If your body can’t sweat proficiently, your body temperature can quickly rise to dangerous levels, leading to potentially serious health effects, such as heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke.
Heat cramps – what to know
A heat cramp is an involuntary and potentially painful muscle spasm that occurs when a person loses salt and water during strenuous physical activities. These cramps can affect several parts of the body, but mainly the muscles around the abdomen, arms, and calves.
How to respond
When your employees experience heat cramps, they should take a break, rest in a designated cool place, and drink a clear juice or a sports beverage containing electrolytes. While seated, they can gently stretch or massage the affected area of their body and avoid strenuous work for a few hours.
Heat exhaustion – what to know
Heat exhaustion is a more severe condition that occurs when a person’s body overheats. Often, heat exhaustion results from exposure to high temperatures and strenuous physical activity, particularly when combined with high humidity. Symptoms of heat exhaustion can include heavy sweating and rapid heartbeat, dizziness, or nausea. A person may also feel faint or suffer from a headache.
How to respond
If you think someone is experiencing heat exhaustion, move them to a cool area to rest and hydrate and have someone stay with them. Supervisors should be notified of the incident and call for medical assistance if symptoms worsen, especially if the person’s body temperature approaches 104 degrees Fahrenheit or 40 degrees Celsius.
Heat Stroke – what to know
A heat stroke occurs when a person’s body is unable to cool itself, allowing the body temperature to rise high enough to cause damage to the brain and other vital organs. Heat strokes can result from strenuous physical activity in hot environments and inadequate fluid intake.
The main sign of heat stroke is a dangerously high body temperature, especially above 104 degrees Fahrenheit or 40 degrees Celsius. The person may seem confused or disoriented and experience rapid or shallow breathing or faint. The skin is often dry and flushed, with no visible sweating.
How to respond
When someone experiences a heat stroke, immediately call for emergency medical help, and move the person to a cool area. Lower their body temperature by fanning them or spraying cool water.
If available, put ice packs or cold compresses on their neck, under the armpits, on the groin area, and in other areas where veins are close to the skin’s surface. Have them drink cool water and stay with them until medical help arrives.
Dress to avoid stress and hydrate
Workers have a better chance of avoiding heat stress if they wear lightweight, breathable clothing that allows their sweat to evaporate. Thick cotton clothing such as jeans and work shirts are not very breathable. Sports or outdoor clothing made of fabrics that pull moisture away from the body are a better choice.
But above all, provide plenty of water breaks and encourage workers to hydrate throughout the day. At the very minimum, they should drink at least eight cups of water every day. That’s about two quarts or liters. Workers engaged in strenuous activities should drink up to a quart or liter of water per hour. Avoid coffee breaks with caffeinated or sugary carbonated beverages such as soda. These drinks can increase water loss from your body.
These are just a few steps you can take to help employees protect themselves against the heat this summer. Perhaps most importantly is the first step….being sure your employees and supervisors are properly trained on prevention measures and quick recognition of heat stress. Working in the heat needs to be a part of every manufacturer’s workplace safety training program.
Contact us for more information or to talk to an employee safety expert.