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Working in Extreme Temperatures

Jun 19, 2009

Yes, it’s that time of year, when the sweltering heat of summer begins to set in and brings with it a host of additional safety and health concerns for employers and workers across the country.  Being able to identify and respond to the warning signs of heat stress can truly become a life or death matter.  In fact, more than 1,000 heat-related deaths occur each year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Let’s then, review the basics so you can be sure your team remains cool and safe this summer.

Who’s at risk
It might seem obvious that workers who are exposed to extreme heat or work in hot environments, such as construction workers, factory workers, firefighters, boiler room workers, cooks, farmers and miners, are at higher risk of succumbing to heat stress.  Even more susceptible, are the subset of workers who are 65 years of age or older, are overweight, have heart disease or high blood pressure, or are taking certain medications that react poorly to extreme heat .

Extreme heat can lead to increased occupational illnesses and injuries.  It can cause things like sweaty palms, fogged-up safety glasses and dizziness, which in turn can result in slips, trips and falls. It can also cause liquids to convert to steam or normally cool surfaces to become scorching hot, which can make accidental contact quite dangerous, resulting in serious burns.

Is your company prepared to beat the heat?
Preventing heat stress is important and companies would be best served to not simply train managers about the dangers and signs of heat stress, but to also train the workers they oversee.  Everyone should understand what heat stress is, how it affects health and safety and ways to prevent it.  Below we've provided the CDC’s heat stress explanations, symptoms and recommended prevention steps.

Common Types of Heat Stress
The two most common types of heat stress seem to be heat stroke and heat exhaustion.

Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related disorder.  It occurs when the body becomes unable to control its temperature: the body's temperature rises rapidly, the sweating mechanism fails, and the body is unable to cool down. When heat stroke occurs, the body temperature can rise to 106 degrees Fahrenheit or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not given.
 
Symptoms of heat stroke include:

  • Hot, dry skin (no sweating)
  • Hallucinations
  • Chills
  • Throbbing headache
  • High body temperature
  • Confusion/dizziness
  • Slurred speech

Take the following steps to treat a worker with heat stroke: 

  • Call 911 and notify their supervisor
  • Move the sick worker to a cool shaded area
  • Cool the worker using methods such as:
    -  Soaking their clothes with water
    -  Spraying, sponging, or showering them with water
    -  Fanning their body

Heat exhaustion is the body's response to an excessive loss of the water and salt, usually through excessive sweating. Workers most prone to heat exhaustion are those that are elderly, have high blood pressure and those working in a hot environment.

Symptoms of heat exhaustion include:

  • Heavy sweating
  • Extreme weakness or fatigue
  • Dizziness, confusion
  • Nausea
  • Clammy, moist skin
  • Pale or flushed complexion
  • Muscle cramps
  • Slightly elevated body temperature
  • Fast and shallow breathing

Treat a worker suffering from heat exhaustion with the following:

  • Have them rest in a cool, shaded or air-conditioned area
  • Have them drink plenty of water or other cool, nonalcoholic beverages
  • Have them take a cool shower, bath, or sponge bath.

Employers should take the following steps to protect workers from heat stress: 

  • Schedule maintenance and repair jobs in hot areas for cooler months
  • Schedule hot jobs for the cooler part of the day
  • Acclimatize workers by exposing them for progressively longer periods to hot work environments
  • Reduce the physical demands of workers
  • Use relief workers or assign extra workers for physically demanding jobs
  • Provide cool water or liquids to workers
  • Avoid drinks with caffeine, alcohol, or large amounts of sugar
  • Provide rest periods with water breaks
  • Provide cool areas for use during break periods
  • Monitor workers who are at risk of heat stress
  • Provide heat stress training that includes information about: 
     -   Worker risk 
     -   Prevention 
     -   Symptoms 
     -   The importance of monitoring yourself and coworkers for symptoms 
     -   Treatment 
     -   Personal Protective Equipment

Finding ways to “beat the heat” in your workplace can be a challenge for any one person, but if you get your entire team involved it can become a simple part of everyone’s daily routine.  We of course, recommend starting the training process before any heat-related injuries and illnesses occur.

Training Options
A variety of training options exist, what you choose really depends on your needs.  If you’re interested in an option that does not require all employees to be present at the same time, you can take a pass on a classroom style format and consider an online solution.

If you would like information about the Working in Extreme Temperatures online, On-Demand Training course available through MSDSonline, please call toll-free 1.888.362.2007 or contact us here.

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