When the body heats up faster than it can cool itself, mild to severe illness may develop. Air temperature, humidity, and clothing can increase the risk of developing heat-related illness. Age, gender, weight, physical fitness, and nutrition can play a role. So can alcohol, drug use, or pre-existing diseases like diabetes.
What your employees need to know about heat illness
Someone with a mild reaction to heat may have a rash called “prickly heat”. They can also have painful muscle spasms called heat cramps. These can happen during or after activity. A mild reaction may also include fatigue or dizziness. You may notice a change in physical or mental performance and an increase in accidents. A moderate reaction to heat is heat exhaustion. A person could be sweating a lot. They could have cold, moist, pale or flushed skin. They might have thirst, extreme weakness or fatigue, as well as headache, nausea, lack of appetite, a rapid weak pulse, or giddiness. If not treated, the victim may collapse.
Move anyone with mild or moderate symptoms to a cool, shaded place with circulating air. Have them lie down and, if conscious, have them sip cool water at frequent intervals. If symptoms continue, call a doctor.
In severe cases of heat illness, heat stroke may result. If the victim’s face flushes red and their skin is hot and dry with no sweating. They could develop a severe headache with deep, rapid breathing, a very high fever, and may become delirious. They may become unconscious, have convulsions, or lapse into a coma. This condition could be fatal unless you get emergency medical treatment. Immediately call for medical help. In the meantime, get them out of the hot environment. Loosen clothing and pour water over the entire body. Get air circulating around the body.
Recognize the warning signs and symptoms of heat-related illness. Then use steps to prevent and control it. This will cut the frequency and severity of heat illness and keep your workers on the job.
What your employees need to do to avoid heat illness
- Drink water – Drink small amounts of water frequently, about a cup every 15-20 minutes. The importance of doing this cannot be overstated. In some heat related deaths, water was available but workers did not drink it.
- Limit exposure time and/or temperature – Try to schedule hot jobs for cooler times of the day or cooler seasons of the year. Take rest breaks in cool areas. Add more workers to reduce workload or reduce the workday
- Take time to acclimate —Workers are at greatest risk with the sudden onset of heat. Gradually adapting to heat will reduce the severity of heat stress.
- Implement engineering controls – Mechanize heavy jobs or increase air movement with fans or coolers.
- Wear loose, lightweight clothing – Clothing can affect heat buildup.
- Avoid using salt tablets – Taking salt tablets can raise blood pressure, cause stomach ulcers, and seriously affect workers with heart disease.
What to cover at your safety meeting about heat illness
You’ll want to remind your employees where to find the water you provide and encourage them to drink. Go over cool down and rest breaks and explain that they should take them as a matter of course, and not wait until they feel sick.
Don’t forget to mention that when temperatures exceed 95 degrees, California’s high heat procedures take effect. Aside from the above, employees are also entitled to a minimum 10-minute cool-down rest period every two hours.
Also, show the employees what’s in your heat illness prevention plan and where to find it.
Summer heat is a way of life in California, and adjusting to it is critical to the success of your business. The National Weather Service provides the latest information about weather hazards throughout the state. Bookmark the page, check back often, and then take the necessary precautions to help protect your employees no matter how hot it gets.