How to Keep Your Workers Cool as Temperatures Heat up
Author(s): Josh Cable
Apr. 17, 2013
Things are beginning to heat up in much of the country. For manufacturers, that means it's time to start thinking about ways to limit workplace heat stress.
According to OSHA, as many as 10 million workers are exposed to heat-related illnesses each year.
"Heat-related illnesses can jeopardize a worker's safety, business productivity and even lead to an OSHA recordable injury," said John Amann, vice president of first aid and safety for Cincinnati-based Cintas Corp. "However, providing workers simple tips for dealing with high temperatures can help reduce the occurrence of heat stress."
Cintas recommends the following strategies to help workers deal with extreme temperatures.
- Understand heat stress. There are three main types of heat stress: heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Heat cramps are painful spasms. Heat exhaustion is a state of weakness, fatigue and dizziness. Heat stroke, the most severe, is a condition resulting in highly elevated body temperature.
All three types of heat stress are intensified by high temperature and humidity; direct sun or heat; limited air movement; physical exertion; poor physical health; and more.
- Dress properly. Wearing a hat outdoors and lightweight, light-colored and loose clothing is important when temperatures are high. Look for personal protective equipment that has moisture-wicking properties and does not cling or feel heavy.
- Drink fluids frequently. Feeling thirsty is a sign of dehydration, so workers should continually drink fluids. One quart of cool water per hour and no more than three gallons per day is recommended for workers dealing with extreme heat. Beverages with electrolytes are another great option for replenishing the body with minerals.
Avoid sodas, energy drinks and alcohol.
- Remember to rest. It is especially important to take additional breaks when temperatures are high. Rest in a cool, shaded area and focus on drinking more liquids during your break.
- Eat right. Limiting the intake of large, hot meals will keep workers feeling their best in the heat. However, they should not skip meals, as the main way the body recovers electrolytes lost through perspiration is from food.
- Assess the environment. Evaluating the work environment can help reveal potential problems. Take note of the weather conditions; the amount of physical labor involved; the length of the workday; the clothing workers are wearing; and any medical conditions that can be aggravated by heat.
- Watch for signs of heat stress. Act as a buddy to co-workers by encouraging proper hot-weather-prevention techniques and watching for signs of heat stress.
Heat cramps result in abnormal body posture and cause a person to grasp the affected area. Heat exhaustion causes extreme sweating, paleness in the face, unsteady walking and moist skin. Heat stroke is noted by mental confusion, convulsions, fainting and dry skin.
- Know emergency response. When heat stress occurs, first determine its extent by asking the person to say their name, the date and where they are. If they are unsure, they likely are suffering from heat stroke; 911 should be called immediately. Then, move the worker to a cooler area, loosen heavy clothing, provide drinking water and fan or mist them with water.
If the individual is not disoriented, they likely are suffering from heat exhaustion, and the same steps should be repeated.
"Although some of these guidelines seem simple enough, heat stress is still an ongoing problem for workers," Amann said. "By learning more about heat stress, its causes and prevention methods, workers can avoid heat-related emergencies as well as help others around them."