Today is the first day of summer! The Summer Solstice, being the longest day of the year, is a glorious day for those who like fun in the sun. However, heat related illnesses in the workplace present a significant hazard. Early in my career in occupational health nursing, I saw a big problem with heat related disorders in the leather manufacturing industry. The process of leather manufacture requires tremendous amounts of heat for drying wet leather hides. Couple this with the hot and humid weather of July and August and employees were at risk. Workers were frequently suffering from the symptoms of heat related disorders and in severe cases required emergency transport to the local hospital.
Air conditioning systems in manufacturing facilities, or even offices, may not be able to keep up with the demand as summer progresses. But working outside may be even more hazardous as the hot sun shines down on road construction crews, landscapers, and agriculture employees.
As a reminder, look over the typical signs and symptoms of heat related stress from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC):
- Heavy sweating
- Cold, pale, and clammy skin
- Fast, weak pulse
- Nausea or vomiting
- High body temperature (above 103°F)*
- Hot, red, dry or moist skin
- Rapid and strong pulse
- Possible unconsciousness
But why wait until a person is exhibiting the signs and symptoms of a heat stress disorder? These problems can be significantly reduced by simple approaches to injury prevention. Frequent rest breaks in a cool environment and providing plenty of fluids with the opportunity to drink them. The following tips are from the Mayo Clinic; click here for more information.
- Wear loose-fitting, lightweight, light-colored clothing
- Avoid sunburn; wear a hat and appropriate sunscreen
- Seek a cooler place and avoid the hottest spots or hottest portion of the day
- Drink plenty of fluids
- Take extra precautions with certain medications
- Let your body acclimate to the heat
Back in my tannery days, during a very prolonged hot spell the company provided ice chips from an ice provider. The workers chewed on the ice chips and cooled their drinks. It was so well received, the company purchased its own ice machine. New studies say crushed ice has shown its superiority in cooling firefighters, electrical utility workers, and miners in severe heat stress situations. Ingestion of approximately 12-16oz of crushed ice for a 200lb worker is recommended.
Ice availability along with frequent breaks in air conditioned spaces encouraged the drinking of fluids. Watching out for each other made a big difference as well. The result was the elimination of heat related disorders and the production levels remained high. So don’t wait until it’s too late; start providing cooling procedures as a preventive measure.