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The Heat is On!

Summer officially begins next week. The summer solstice brings with it rising temperatures and increased humidity. So it’s important for all employees to know how to cope with the heat.

Whether they’re outdoors in the heat for work or play, or whether they work indoors in a hot environment, employees need to know how to cope with the heat. As with all safety and health training, heat safety training should emphasize both hazards and prevention.

Heat Hazards

There are a variety of possible heat hazards. In order of seriousness, these are:

  • Heat rash-not dangerous, but definitely uncomfortable (Showers after work and a sprinkle of  talcum are helpful.)
  • Heat stress-as indicated by such symptoms as extreme thirst, fatigue, dizziness, and even  trouble seeing; (Take a break in the shade and drink cool water, never alcoholic beverages.)
  • Heat cramps-painful muscle spasms in arms, legs, or intestines, caused by losing salt as the  result of sweating (Again, cool down and drink water.)
  • Heat exhaustion-may cause weakness, dizziness, headache, nausea, chills with clammy skin and profuse sweating. Have the victim rest in a cool spot, with feet slightly elevated, and drink cool water unless vomiting . If there’s no improvement in a short time, get medical help.
  • Heatstroke-is the most serious, in fact life-threatening, form of heat sickness, in which the cooling action of perspiration stops; the skin may be hot to the touch; and the victim may appear confused and show poor coordination. Call a doctor and/or ambulance and move the victim to a cool place at once, then continuously sponge with cold water; apply ice packs or cold soft-drink cans until medical help arrives.

Preventing Heat Illness

Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do to protect workers from heat hazards. For example, you can:

  • Schedule the heaviest periods of work during the coolest parts of the day.
  • Allow frequent breaks (in a cool place out of the sun if possible). \
  • Make cool water available and encourage workers to drink frequently and plentifully.

You can also protect the health and safety of workers by encouraging them- and their families- to follow sensible precautions to keep safe in the heat. For example:

  • Wear lightweight, light-colored, and loose-fitting clothes, plus a lightweight cotton hat.
  • Avoid dehydration by drinking plenty of cool (not cold) nonalcoholic, caffeine-free fluids.
  • Limit exposure to the sun as much as possible by scheduling outdoor activities for mornings and evenings, and try to stay in the shade if outside in the midday.
  • Use sunscreen, preferably with an SPF of 30 or higher, to protect the skin against burning-and cancer.
  • Wear sunglasses to protect eyes from hazardous UV rays.
  • Avoid hot and heavy meals; instead, eat light foods at room temperature and choose small portions of fruits and vegetables (which contain a lot of fluids).

Who’s at Risk?

Some people are likely to be at greater risk than others on especially hot days. For example:

  • People who overexert during working or exercising may be at greater risk of dehydration and need to drink more.
  • People who have to wear heavy protective clothing or equipment on the job can easily overheat and need to take off their protection periodically, take cooling-off breaks, and drink plenty of fluid.
  • People who are overweight are often more susceptible to heat sickness because they retain more body heat. They need to pace themselves and avoid overexertion when it’s very hot.
  • People who are ill with heart disease or high blood pressure, or those who take various medications, are at greater risk when it’s hot and should follow doctor’s orders.
  • People who are tired may be more susceptible to heat stress and need to try to get more rest.
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