Heat Related Worker Illness


Since 2008 there have been 107 Heat-Related Deaths in the continental United States. Each year there are thousands of heat-related illnesses. That is why OSHA has developed a Nationwide Heat Illness Campaign designed to raise awareness to both employers and employees about the dangers of working in heat and hot weather. Those most affected by the heat include but are in no way limited to the in the construction trade, utilities, agriculture and oil and gas exploration. New employees, temporary employees and those returning to work after a period of time off are especially vulnerable to the heat as it takes some time to build up a tolerance to it.

Generally the comfort level for humans runs between 68 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit depending on humidity and the season of the year. That range of temperature helps keep body temperature at around 98.6 degrees. When in an environment where the temperature runs into the upper 70s or higher, steps must be taken to keep workers comfortable and keep their body temperature normal.  When the heat level is not controlled — no air conditioning or fans indoors; no cool water provided; working long periods of time in heat and humidity outdoors; problems develop quickly. Heat Stroke develops when the body’s temperature rises to the dangerous level of 104 degrees F. This occurs due to the body’s inability to shed heat by either sweating or internal circulatory changes. Once a person’s temperature reaches 103 degrees F, wet towels should immediately be applied, the person placed in a cool bath if possible and supplied with cool non-carbonated and non-caffeinated liquids. Sunburn also lessons the skin’s ability to shed heat so when working outside it is important to cover as much of the body as possible with proper clothing that will prevent ultra-violet light from burning the skin while at the same time not causing its own heat problem.

The signs of heat-exhaustion include headache, nausea, dizziness, heavy sweating and thirst. Cool down the person with cold compresses to the back of the head, neck and face. Provide continuous sips of water. Heat Cramps can be caused by excessive work in a hot environment. This condition requires providing electrolyte replacement liquids every 15 minutes until the condition subsides. The most common condition is a heat rash that many employees develop on the job, especially when working in hot and humid conditions. The high humidity leads to excessive sweating and this causes a combination of redness, pimples and small blisters. The best treatment is to get the heat and humidity under control. Treating the condition can include placing powder over the injured area... However creams and ointments should be avoided as warm and moist skins actually can worsen the condition.

When working outside, especially during the summer months everyone should be aware of weather forecasts. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issues “Outlooks, watches, warnings and advisories.” A heat-related outlook is issued from 3 days to a week prior to an excessive heat condition. An excessive heat watch is issued for a heat condition developing within the next 12 to 48 hours. Warnings and advisories are issued when an excessive heat condition is just 36 hours away. Outlooks and Watches indicate uncomfortable conditions are on the way. Warnings and advisories indicate conditions that can be life threatening. As Climate Change plays more of a role in everyday activities, these forecasts will become a way of life for everyone.

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