Summer is heating up and temperatures in Georgia are expected to be in the high 80s and 90s. For workers who spend their days outside, the heat presents an additional hazard. In the interest of preventing as many heat-related worker illnesses as possible, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is attempting to boost awareness about the risks of extreme heat and heat hazards in the workplace. While they may not be the most immediate type of injuries that come to mind when you think of work injuries, they still pose a significant threat. In fact, 2,630 workers suffered from heat-related illnesses in 2014 and 18 workers died. Workers affected by heat illness would be able to collect Georgia workers’ compensation if they needed to miss days from work or pay medical expenses. To find out more, contact a qualified workers’ compensation attorney.
The OSHA CampaignTeaming up with the National Waste and Recycling Association and Republic Services, OSHA’s campaign, “Water. Rest. Shade,” seeks to increase awareness about heat hazards in the workplace. They are focusing on educational resources, training, tips on using the heat index, and an online toolkit. All of the heat-related fatalities they have investigated have been entirely preventable and the goal is to prevent any future ones from happening.
Workers Most At Risk For Heat IllnessesWhile workers who spend their time indoors without air conditioning may feel uncomfortable, it is primarily workers who face hot and humid conditions outside that are most prone to heat illnesses. Of those working out in the sun, the ones most at risk are those doing heavy work or wearing bulky protective clothing and using machinery. New or temporary workers as well as those who have had time off may have even less tolerance for hot conditions. The industries typically affected most by heat-related illnesses include:
- Transportation and utilities;
- Grounds maintenance;
- Landscaping services; and
- Oil and gas support operations.
Heat-Related Conditions Affecting WorkersIn hot environments, the body must work to remove excess heat and maintain a stable internal temperature. This is primarily done through blood circulation and sweating. Normal internal body temperature is 98.6 degrees and the closer the outside temperature gets to this, the more difficult it is for a worker to cool off. When the cooling mechanisms of the body fail, the body stores the heat, causing internal temperature to rise and heart rate to increase. Workers dealing with extreme heat may suffer several different heat illnesses, including:
- Heat stroke – The most serious of conditions, heat stroke occurs when the body can no longer control its temperature. At this point the sweating mechanism has failed, the body temperatures begins rising quickly, reaching up to 106 degrees in 10 to 15 minutes. Symptoms of heat stroke include confusion, loss of consciousness, dry skin or profuse sweating, seizures, and extremely high body temperature. Without emergency treatment, heat stroke can cause permanent disabilities or even death.
- Heat exhaustion – Also a very serious condition, heat exhaustion is the body’s reaction to a lack of water and salt, typically brought on by excessive sweating. Signs of heat exhaustion include experiencing headache, dizziness, nausea, heavy sweating, confusion, thirst, and temperatures higher than 100.4 degrees. Workers with high blood pressure and the elderly are more likely to suffer from heat exhaustion. Anyone experiencing symptoms should be removed from the hot area, given liquids, and taken for a medical evaluation.
- Heat cramps – Workers who sweat a lot may experience heat cramps due to loss of fluids. These painful cramps can be relieved by drinking water or sports drinks every 15 to 20 minutes. Cramps may also be a sign of heat exhaustion.
- Heat rash – Appearing as red clusters or small blisters, heat rash is the most common issue facing workers in hot environments. Heat rash is caused by excessive sweating and can affect many areas of the body, including the upper chest, neck, groin, under the breasts, and elbow creases. To treat the rash, keep it dry and get into a cooler, less humid environment. Do not use ointments or creams as this may make the rash worse.
Keys to Preventing Heat Illness and FatalitiesRegulations set in place by OSHA require employers to keep workers safe from known hazards, including extreme heat. Employers who have workers exposed to high temperatures should implement comprehensive heat illness prevention programs. These measures are relatively simple and are focused on the water, rest, and shade points laid out by OSHA in their awareness campaign, having workers properly trained to handle heat-illness emergencies, and gradually increasing workloads for new or returning workers so they can build tolerance. If you are an employee working in hot temperatures you should:
- Drink water every 15 minutes, regardless of whether you are thirsty or not;
- Taking periodic breaks in the shade to cool down;
- Wearing lightly colored clothing and a hat;
- Monitoring your co-workers for signs of heat-illness; and
- Learning the symptoms and first aid treatment for heat-illnesses.