Heat Stress: Beyond Summer, Beyond Outdoors
Fall has arrived, and with it comes a bittersweet farewell to the hot summer months that we leave behind. However, we can’t be too quick to dismiss some of the dangers that come with hot weather. Heat stress can occur no matter what the temperature is outside and we have a firsthand example to prove it.
A few weeks ago one of ORR’s associates experienced heat stress out on a call for service. While most heat stress incidents happen when the weather is sweltering, this occurred while a cool breeze was blowing and the temperature was 73° Fahrenheit. Inside the building, however, it was significantly hotter and the air was stagnant.
It should be noted the technician was doing physical work, which greatly increases chances of heat related issues. It only took him a few hours to begin feeling symptoms and resulted in a trip to the doctor. An incident like this is an OSHA recordable, as it required treatment beyond first aid (OSHA).
This incident reconfirmed the need to be aware of our working conditions, no matter the location or time of year. Even when the weather is enjoyable, we cannot let our guard down towards heat-related illnesses. For heat stress, the old adage is true; prevention is the best protection.
Stay Aware and Monitor Your Surroundings
As with any potentially dangerous situation (both on and off the job), it is crucial to be aware of your surroundings, note any warning signs, and be on the lookout for potential danger. Take these steps to monitor potential heat-related injuries:
Pay attention to the air temperature where you are working. If you work inside, keep tabs on the temperature inside and outside the building. Temperatures can fluctuate rapidly, so make sure to have frequent, pre-determined intervals where you monitor the thermostat.
High relative humidity decreases evaporation of sweat off of your skin, which makes it harder for your body to cool itself (Columbia). Use a Scientific Monitor to keep an eye on humidity and maintain safe working levels.
If air is stagnant, temperatures could increase rapidly due to lack of air flow. Consider opening doors to let in drafts and turning on a fan where acceptable.
Measures to Keep Heat at Bay
If you do start to notice signs of heat exhaustion or high temperatures, use cautionary measures that allow everyone to complete their work safely.
If it seems hot and you are sweating, slow your pace to match what you are comfortable with. Do not push your body to its limits. Take frequent breaks to cool down in a shaded or cool area.
Drink a lot of fluids; OSHA recommends about a quart of water or sports drink each hour, consumed slowly. A cooler is worth the investment and should be stocked with ice and drinks.
Newer first aid kits have chemical ice packs that help with heat illness symptoms. Place the ice pack at the victim’s pulse points; the side of the neck, on the forehead, or inside of their legs, to help them cool down faster. It doesn’t hurt to carry a back-up icepack or two; you never know how many people will be feeling the heat.
Plan ahead and prepare for the heat. If it is possible you will be doing physical work and it will be hot, fill up your cooler, make sure your first aid kit is stocked, and watch for heat stress signs your coworkers may show.
Staying safe is a community effort; if you notice a coworker lagging behind or an area is getting increasingly hot, say something! You don’t have to be under the summer sun to feel that effects of heat; it can strike anywhere. We at ORR Safety saw this firsthand; even a company that specializes in safety can be vulnerable to unexpected complications. If you are looking for ways for you or your workers to cool off, head over to our Heat Stress Prevention Shop for cooling towels, sports drinks, and other items specifically designed to keep you cool while working.
Columbia University Environmental Health and Safety. (2008) Heat Stress. Retrieved from: http://ehs.columbia.edu/HeatStress.html
OSHA: Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Injury and Illness Recordkeeping and Reporting Requirements. Retrieved from: https://www.osha.gov/recordkeeping/