Parts of California are experiencing record breaking temperatures this summer, but we all know that work doesn’t stop just because it’s hot. So as the heat index rises, here are a few things to keep in mind that may keep you and your employees safe from heat related illness or even heat related death caused by heat exhaustion or heat stroke. The heat index, which takes both temperature and humidity into account, is a useful tool for outdoor workers and employers (see Using the Heat Index: A Guide for Employers).
What is the difference between heat exhaustion and heat stroke?
Heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke when the body’s temperature regulation fails. If a person is suffering from a heat-related illness such as heat exhaustion, but changes in mental status occur, he or she should be considered to be suffering from heat stroke. This includes confusion, lethargy, seizure, or coma. This is a medical emergency, and if treatment is delayed mortality can be greater than 50%. Heat exhaustion is a less severe condition associated with prolonged exposure to high heat. It’s characterized by the body’s loss of electrolytes. In cases of heat exhaustion alone, a worker will perspire his or her electrolytes, resulting a rapid pulse, excessive sweating, muscle weakness, vomiting, and lethargy.
Symptoms of Heat Stroke Include The Following:
- Individual has stopped sweating
- Severe, migraine-like headaches
- Trouble speaking
- Dizziness and/or vertigo
- Skin that’s hot to the touch
- Elevated pulse rate
Here are a few things you can do to lessen your chances:
- Wear clothes made of light, breathable fabrics.
- Drink plenty of water throughout the day.
- Avoid exposure to direct sunlight.
- Limit your physical exertion.
- Stay in shaded areas when possible.
- Remember that certain types of medication may increase the risk of heat-related illness, so check your prescription for possible interactions.
- Wrap a wet towel around your head and neck for instant cooling relief.
- If you’re working outside during the summer, take a short 5-10 minute break every hour, if possible.
- Avoid drinking caffeine and/or sugary beverages.
- Wear light-colored clothing to reflect sunlight.
- When possible, work outside during the mornings when the sun hasn’t reached its peak yet.
Are you dehydrated?
Lack of thirst doesn’t necessarily mean you’re well hydrated and knowing what dehydration looks and feels like is key to prevention. Here is a skin test you can use as a means to determine whether or not you’re dehydrated. Use two fingers to pinch up some skin on the back of your hand, then let the skin go. The skin should spring back to its normal position in less than a couple of seconds. If the skin returns to normal more slowly, you might be dehydrated. Other symptoms may include:
- Bad breath
- Dry skin
- Muscle cramps
- Fever and chills
- Food cravings (sweets)
Let these be key indicators and act accordingly. Keep a water bottle handy and sip throughout the day. If you’re not someone who enjoys plain water alone, try adding a lemon or even dropping in a cucumber.
For more tips on keeping safe in the heat, visit OSHA’s website.
Workers have a right to a safe workplace. If you think your job is unsafe or have questions, visit OSHA’s Worker’s Page or call 1-800-321-6742 (OSHA). It’s confidential. For other valuable worker protection information, such as Workers’ Rights, Employer Responsibilities, and other services OSHA offers, visit OSHA’s Workers’ page.
OSHA also provides help to employers. OSHA’s On-site Consultation Program offers free and confidential advice to small and medium-sized businesses in all states across the country, with priority given to high-hazard work sites. For more information or for additional compliance assistance contact OSHA at 1-800-321-6742 (OSHA).