Cintas Corp., a provider of first-aid and safety personal protective equipment (PPE), offers suggestions for limiting heat stress in the workplace. When the body is unable to cool itself by sweating, heat stress can occur. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), five to 10 million workers are exposed to heat-related illnesses each year.
“Heat-related illnesses can jeopardize a worker’s safety, business productivity and even lead to a recordable injury,” said John Amann, vice president, first-aid and safety, Cintas.
To avoid heat stress, workers should:
- Understand heat stress: There are three main types of heat stress—heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Heat cramps are painful spasms. Heat exhaustion is a state of weakness, fatigue and dizziness. Heat stroke, the most severe, is a condition resulting in highly elevated body temperature. All are intensified by high temperature and humidity, direct sun or heat, limited air movement, physical exertion, poor physical health and more.
- Dress properly: Wearing a hat outdoors and lightweight, light-colored and loose clothing is important when temperatures are high. Look for PPE that has moisturewicking properties and does not cling or feel heavy.
- Drink fluids frequently: Feeling thirsty is a sign of dehydration so workers should continually drink fluids to avoid this condition. One quart of cool water per hour and no more than 3 gallons per day is recommended for workers dealing with extreme heat. Beverages with electrolytes are another option for replenishing the body with minerals. Avoid sodas, energy drinks and alcohol.
- Remember to rest: It is especially important to take additional breaks when temperatures are high. Rest in a cool, shaded area and focus on drinking moreliquids during breaks.
- Eat right: Limit the intake of large, hot meals. However, try not to skip meals, since the main way the body recovers electrolytes lost through perspiration is from food.
- Assess your environment: Evaluating their work environment can help personnelrecognize potential problems and correct them. Take note of the weather in, the amount of physical labor necessary, the length of work day, on-the-job clothing and any medical conditions that can be aggravated by heat.
- Watch for signs of heat stress: Act as a buddy to coworkers by encouraging proper hot weather prevention techniques and watching for signs of heat stress. Heat cramps result in abnormal body posture and cause a person to grasp the affected area. Heat exhaustion causes extreme sweating, paleness in the face, unsteady walking and moist skin. Heat stroke is noted by mental confusion, convulsions, fainting and dry skin.
- Know emergency response: When heat stress occurs, first determine its extent by asking the person their name, the date and where they are. If they are unsure, they are likely in heat stroke and in need of immediate medical attention. Move the worker to a cooler area, loosen clothing, provide drinking water and fan or mist them with water. If the individual is not disoriented, they are likely suffering from heat exhaustion.