Summertime Safety

Only You Can Prevent… Skin Cancer!

Koch Posted by Peter Koch

These sunny summer days are great. The bright summer sun gives us light, energy, and increases our vitamin D production. However, the same sun that gives us so much can be a hazard for outdoor workers. What are the hazards? Beyond heat stroke and dehydration, the ultraviolet light from the sun can also be hazardous.  Even though we all react differently to sun exposure, statistics show that the stronger the source and more frequent the exposure, our risk of melanoma or skin cancer will increase.

The American Cancer Society estimates that there will be more than 87,000 new cases of melanoma diagnosed in 2017. They also forecast that around 10,000 people will die from melanoma this year.   Lastly, since 2009 there has been a 20 percent increase in new cases of melanoma.

What can you do as an employee? Remember the Smokey Bear slogan about forest fire prevention, “Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires”? Well, only you can prevent skin cancer. The Skin Cancer Foundation and the Canadian Dermatology Association have published some great information on prevention. Heed the warnings and take these preventative measures: 

  • Cover up – wear loose clothing, long sleeves and pants
  • Protect your eyes – use UV protective eyewear
  • Cover your head, neck and ears – wear a wide brimmed hat or a hard hat with a brim and use a neck flap
  • Take your breaks in the shade – get out of the sun when you can, especially between 11am-3pm, when UV is the strongest
  • Use sunscreen and lip balm – use at least an SPF 30 broad spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen and don’t forget to reapply
  • Be skin safe – report changes in skin spots and moles to your doctor as soon as possible – early detection is important

You would think that with all of the information out there, we would take precautions and this alarming trend would begin to decline. However, according to a small scale survey from the Skin Cancer Foundation, only 51 percent of men reported using sunscreen in the last 12 months and 70 percent did NOT know the warning signs of skin cancer. With these survey results, you can imagine this terrible trend in new cases and deaths from melanoma will continue.

What can you do if you’re an employer?

  • Educate
    • Inform your staff about sun exposure hazards
    • Provide resources to get their attention
  • Provide Opportunity
    • Allow staff to take breaks in the shade
    • Provide ways to create shade where none is occurring naturally (like road construction)
    • Help staff find reasonably priced sunscreen or provide some to them
    • Help staff find reasonably priced clothing that can help block UV rays
    • Consider modifying schedules to limit work during the times when exposure is greatest

If we work together as employer and employee we can help reverse the trend. Here are a list of resources that can help you get started.

Skin Cancer Prevention for Outdoor Workers

Prevention Strategies

Sun Safety and Outdoor Workers

Resources for Outdoor Workers

CDC – Sun Safety

MEMIC Safety Net


It’s Road Construction Season Once Again

KlattPosted by Randy Klatt, WCP®

While many areas of the country experience road construction year-round, summer generally means an uptick in highway projects.  Summer also brings an increase in traffic as people head out on vacations.  This is especially true this year with the lowest July gas prices since 2005.  Combined increases in both traffic and construction poses obvious challenges for both motorists and construction crews.

Kids Safety

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 2,054 workplace fatalities in 2015 involving transportation (42% of all workplace fatalities in 2015).  Roadway incidents involving motor vehicles and pedestrians struck by vehicles accounted for 1,553 of those fatalities, and 130 of those fatalities occurred at road construction sites.  Total fatalities in work zones, including pedestrians and motorists not at work, totaled 700.  Needless to say, more focus is needed in an industry where workers on foot are intentionally placed in close proximity to moving traffic.

6a00e553697a6a883401b7c90769f3970bSource:  https://www.workzonesafety.org/files/documents/crash_data/Alliance_roadway_fatalities_graphic.pdf

Each year speeding is found to be the most common cause of traffic crashes.  Since nearly half of roadway fatalities result from employees being struck by moving vehicles a reasonable recommendation is to slow down!   Highway work zones often have reduced speed limits posted, and many states double the fine amount for exceeding those limits.  Motorists must be more vigilant when approaching construction sites.  Expect workers and heavy equipment to be moving around the site frequently and adjust speed accordingly.  Driving more conservatively will get you to your destination, and avoid the frustration and increased risk of a crash that comes with driving faster.  By the way, it will also save money in fuel and car

Following flagging personnel direction is also critical for everyone’s safety.  Flaggers have an important role and distracted or impatient motorists make the job much more difficult and hazardous.  Look for these workers along the roadway and expect stop and go traffic.  Leave a safe following distance between vehicles and avoid other distractions. 

Employers should be setting up work zones in accordance with the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) and any applicable state supplements, or state MUTCD publications as applicable.  Ensuring flaggers are properly trained and equipped is also vital to safe operations.  Flaggers should never assume that motorists see them.  In fact, flaggers should assume that passing motorists don’t see them.  Stay out of the traffic lane and always be alert for oncoming traffic and never turn your back to oncoming vehicles.    

More information can be found from OSHA on their Highway Work Zones and Signs, Signals, and Barricades webpage, the National Work Zone Safety Information Clearinghouse, the Federal Highway Administration, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).  By working together this summer we can all enjoy the great outdoors and family vacations, and keep our road workers safe as they build and maintain our roadways.  Take your time, be courteous and patient, drive sober and well rested, and we’ll all Arrive Alive.

 

 


Safe Golf Cart Operations

HawkerPosted by Tonya Hawker

Golf carts have become quite a popular commodity these days, and not just for playing golf.  In fact, golf carts are used not only in country clubs, but also on automotive dealership lots, large manufacturing facilities, and even between buildings on large properties like schools, hospitals, hotels, and entertainment venues.  So yes, golf carts have become a fast, cheap, maintenance free way to get around a large foot-print.  However, driving a small, silent vehicle around a bustling facility can also present significant hazards.  A quick search of the OSHA website revealed over 120 incidents resulting in citations, injuries, and fatalities related to golf cart use.

 

Golf CArt

Here are a few hints to help reduce this exposure…

  • Controlled Access: Allow only specific employees to access or use the vehicle.  Controlling access can limit horseplay and unnecessary use.
  • Safety Rules: Require users to read and sign a copy of the company’s safety rules for the vehicle.
  • Identification: Assign a designated traffic route for use by the golf cart that doesn’t interfere with pedestrian or other vehicular traffic.  Consider highlighting the traffic patterns with marking paint to inform others of the traffic routine.
  • Enforcement: Administer strict disciplinary action for improper use or behavior by revoking privileges or terminating employment.  Safety compliance is critical!
  • Battery Charging: Charging should only be done in areas designed for that purpose. The area should be well ventilated and have spill response materials available to clean-up electrolyte spills.  Charging devices should be equipped with automatic shut-off devices.

Also consider clearly posting golf cart operating rules on all carts and don’t forget about training.  Golf Cart Operating Rules should be reviewed with designated drivers at hire and annual refresher training completed to reinforce the expected behaviors.  See sample rules below:

 

Golf Cart Safety Rules

  • Golf carts should be operated on clearly identified paths or perimeter roadways. Sidewalks should be used only where roadways &/or parking lots are not available, and then, only to the nearest adjacent street or parking lot.
  • Keys to unused golf carts should be controlled to prevent unauthorized use.
  • When operating the cart, always stay to the far right side of the lane to allow other vehicles to pass.
  • Always obey traffic rules and regulations.
  • Use extreme caution near building entrances. Park the vehicle away from doors, walkways, or covered areas.
  • Golf carts should be operated at a safe speed. The speed should be no faster than a well-paced walk.  Speed may also be subject to terrain, weather conditions, and total weight of the golf cart… So be cautious of your environment.
  • All occupants MUST keep hands, arms, legs, and feet inside the golf cart while it is moving.
  • No golf carts should be operated with more passengers than the seating provides. All passengers MUST be seated while cart is in motion.
  • Never back up without making sure there are no people or obstructions blocking the travel route.
  • Pedestrians always have the “right of way”.
  • Approach sharp or blind corners with caution and reduce speed.
  • NEVER operate golf cart on steep hills or severely sloped terrain. Stay on flat areas.
  • Never leave keys in a golf cart unattended.
  • When the golf cart is not in motion, the control lever should be placed in PARK (or neutral position) with the PARKING BRAKE SET. Then remove the key.

 

 

Additional information can be found at Golf Cart Safety.com, and from EHS Daily Advisor


 


Bunk Beds De-bunked!

KochPosted by Peter Koch

Housekeepers unite! It’s time we de-bunked. While bunk beds are common in many segments of the hospitality industry and serve to increase the occupancy of a room, they can be a real pain in a housekeeper’s day.  This becomes even more important as summer camps open and more bunk beds are in use.  Ask any housekeeper, “Which would you rather do, clean a bathroom or make up a bunk bed?”  Inevitably, they will choose bathroom duty. 

Bunk beds come in many shapes and sizes, but all have the same basic hazards:

These exposures increase the force it takes to do the same tasks as a regular bed, no matter the size.  Using proper technique as allowed by the bed configuration, lifting the edge of a twin mattress on a top bunk can put more strain on the shoulder and back than lifting the edge of a king mattress on a bed positioned at the housekeepers waist.  Pic 1 5 19

While there are no national statistics on bunk bed injuries among housekeeping staff, their design alone places limitations on the controls that can be implemented.  The best practice is transitioning to a “no bunk bed environment”.  However, this is usually beyond the scope of most housekeeping teams, so here are a few quick tips to tame bunk bed tasks:

  • Create space
    1. Move the bunk away from the wall so the team can work on both sides of the bed.
    2. No Bunk Monkeys - Assigning the smallest person to climb to the top bunk and do the work that can’t be reached from the open side is a widely used practice. However, this brings on its own set of exposures and is not recommended.

Pic 2 5 19

  • Work as a team
    1. Two housekeepers are recommended to tackle the bunk bed tasks. Working together they can share the load and reduce the forces required.
  • Remove the rails or work between them
    1. If the bunk has removable rails, take them down. This will allow the team to work without having to reach over it.
    2. If the rails can’t be removed, work between or under them when possible. This will also limit awkward postures.

Pic 3 5 19

  • Consider custom tools
    1. Using a pole or board placed under the mattress and between the rails can provide needed space and limit the length of time the mattress must be held manually.
  • Change positions to reduce sustained awkward postures
    1. Stand up to position the bedding.
    2. Kneel to spread, smooth and tuck.

Pic 4 5 19

 


Hand in Glove (Suitably Protected)

LarochellePosted by Greg LaRochelle, WCP

Soon in northern climes with the arrival of spring and the greening of the outdoors, we’ll be outside digging in the dirt starting our vegetable and flower gardens, pruning shrubs, cleaning up yard debris, and mowing the lawn.  To accomplish this, hand and power tools made of steel with honed edges, pointed ends, and sharp teeth will be used.  We’ll be spreading lime and fertilizer for a lush green landscape and maybe even applying herbicides and insecticides to control unwanted guests, orchestrating all of this with the use of our dexterous hands.  So it stands to reason, we should protect our “paws” and nimble fingers against cuts, chemical exposure, and the chance of infection from bacteria-laden earth.    

The obvious safeguard is to don a pair of gloves; but the selection of the right glove for the job is less apparent when you consider all the hazards (at hand).  This is the same perplexing issue many employers are faced with when conducting a personal protective equipment (PPE) assessment specific for hand protection.  The appropriate glove for protection against sharp tools may be an all-purpose leather glove or one made of cut-resistant Kevlar but the answer is less clear for safeguarding against chemical use. 

Gloves intended for protection against chemicals are rated for their resistance to permeation and degradation.  Permeation is a process by which a chemical can pass through the molecules of the glove material and degradation is a reduction in the physical properties of the glove material when exposed to a chemical.  In sizing up the situation for selecting the right glove, the safety data sheet for the chemical product should be reviewed with regard to its chemical composition.  Typically, the major constituent in weight percent is evaluated for PPE use.  From this “ingredient” information, the proper glove can be determined by referencing a rating chart.  The glove manufacturer Ansell has an online chemical resistance guide for 163 chemicals from acetaldehyde to xylene/xylol.  For example, if a certain manufacturing process involves the use of the organic solvent acetone, the Ansell chart indicates a laminate film glove as well as neoprene and natural rubber to be appropriate glove selections while nitrile and polyvinyl chloride gloves are not recommended for use.    

So review this glove rating chart or contact your PPE supply vendor to ensure the “hand in glove” is suitably protected against the chemical products in use.  You’ll likely find this resource to be quite handy. 

Also, check out these previous springtime related MEMIC blog posts, Your Lawn Mower is More Dangerous Than You Think and Spring Clean Up: Chainsaw Awareness.  Have a safe and bountiful gardening season!

 

 

 

 


What You Should Know About Zika Virus

LarochellePosted by Greg LaRochelle, WCP

With the emergence of “home grown” Zika virus in the Miami-Dade and Broward counties of Florida, OSHA has recently posted interim guidance for protecting workers from occupational exposure to Zika virus.  First identified in 1947 in the Zika Forest of Uganda, cases of Zika virus infection emerged in 2015 in the Americas and the Caribbean.  The virus is spread by Aedes species mosquitoes which are mostly concentrated in temperate climates.  Transmission of the Zika virus primarily occurs from the bite of an infected mosquito but can also occur from direct contact with infectious blood or bodily fluid and from an infected mother to her fetus during pregnancy and delivery.  Infection during pregnancy can cause brain abnormalities such as microcephaly.  Symptoms of infection typically last seven days and include fever, headache, joint pain, rash, and red or pink eyes.

The Control and Prevention section of OSHA’s interim guidance provides recommended actions for outdoor workers, healthcare and laboratory workers, and mosquito control workers.  Additionally, information is provided on the safe use of insect repellents along with reference to the OSHA bloodborne pathogens standard, personal protective equipment standards, and respiratory protection standard.  Recommended actions for outdoor workers include:

  • Using insect repellent
  • Wearing light-weight clothing and a hat with netting to conceal exposed skin
  • Getting rid of sources of standing water
  • Talking with supervisors on outdoor work assignments and becoming familiar with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s information on Zika and pregnancy
  • Seeking prompt medical attention if symptoms develop

8x11preventionENG

OSHA has published a QuickCard titled Zika Virus Protection for Outdoor Workers that is also available in Spanish.

The Zika Virus Exposures/Cases section offers general guidance for employers of workers with suspected or confirmed Zika with a link to the CDC Zika and Sexual Transmission website.   Recommended actions for employers include:

  • Informing employees of the symptoms of Zika
  • Training workers to seek medical evaluation if Zika symptoms develop
  • Ensuring workers with suspected exposure receive prompt and appropriate medical evaluation and follow-up
  • Considering options for granting employee sick leave during the infectious period

While a number of research companies are feverishly working on a vaccine for Zika with human clinical trials possibly occurring in 2016, it may be several years before the headline news reads “Eureka, a Cure for Zika!”  Until then, employers and employees have a shared responsibility to take appropriate precautions to avoid occupational exposure to Zika virus.  For more information on bloodborne pathogen control, PPE, and respiratory protection, check out the resources available in the MEMIC Safety Director.


Don’t be a Hot Head: Tips to Avoid Heat Stress

Whether you are working outside or participating in an athletic event like the TD Beach to Beacon in Maine, ASYMCA Mud Run in Virginia or New York Adventure Racing Association's Trail Series, avoiding heat stress is essential to achieving your goals and having a safe and enjoyable summer. Thousands of workers and athletes require treatment for heat exposure each year.  Here are some of the more serious heat disorders:

Heat Rash is the most common problem in hot environments and produces blister-like raised bumps on the skin that may itch or be painful to the touch. Treatment includes limiting time in the heat, keeping the skin dry and showering promptly after being in the heat.

Heat Cramps are painful muscle spasms that occur in the leg, arm, or abdomen. The cramps occur as a result of extended physical activity in a hot environment. Heat cramps are one of the first signs of dehydration. If you suffer from heat cramps you should rest and drink water and electrolyte liquids like Gatorade. Eat salty crackers to increase salt in-take. Do not use salt tablets. Try chewing on ice chips to cool down.

Heat Exhaustion is a result of the combination of excessive heat and dehydration. This serious condition, which left untreated, can lead to heat stroke. Symptoms include headache, nausea, dizziness and/or fainting, weakness, heavy sweating, thirst, moist-clammy skin, and elevated body temperature. People in this condition should be moved to a cool shaded area. Cool them with water or cold compresses to the head, neck, and face. Have them drink water and electrolyte liquids like Gatorade. If they cannot drink or become lethargic, call 911. Make sure someone stays with them until help arrives.

Heat Stroke is the most serious illness associated with working in hot environments and if left untreated will result in death. Symptoms include hot dry skin (sweating may or may not still be present), red-bluish skin, rapid pulse, confusion, loss of consciousness, seizures/convulsions, very high body temperature. Call 911 immediately. Soak clothing and skin in cool water and use a fan to create air movement. Make sure someone stays with the worker until help arrives.

Preventing heat stress in the first place is the goal and following these five tips will go a long way towards keeping you safe:

  1. Plan your day.  If you can, avoid strenuous activity during the hottest parts or the day. If possible, secure a shady spot near your activity zone to take breaks in and limit time in the direct sun.
  2. Wear the right gear. Light colored, breathable fabrics and hats that shade your face and neck will help to keep you comfortable under the sun’s rays. Eye damage is a concern, too – make sure your pair of sunglasses filters at least 90 percent of ultraviolet (UV) rays.
  3. Apply sunscreen early and often. The benefits of regular sunscreen use are well-documented, but studies continue to show that adults often don’t wear enough, if they wear it at all. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen (protecting against UV-A and UV-B rays) with an SPF of at least 15. Apply liberally 30 minutes before going outside, and every two hours thereafter.
  4. Stay hydrated. The more we sweat, the more important it is to replace the fluids our body has lost. Water is perfectly acceptable for short periods outside, but for longer stretches, you may want to consider replenishing your electrolytes with a sports drink. The Center for Disease Control recommends approximately one cup of water every 15 to 20 minutes. Alcohol, caffeine, and sugary drinks are not recommended, as they tend to dehydrate your body.
  5. Assess how you’re feeling on a regular basis. If you can, take the time to rest in the shade for a few minutes every hour and monitor yourself for signs of overexposure and dehydration. If you’re feeling dizzy, nauseated, or extremely fatigued, it’s likely a sign that your body needs a break from heat exposure. Muscle pain or spasms may indicate dehydration or low salt levels.  Don’t ignore these warning signals. Overextending yourself can be a serious health risk.

By taking some simple precautions and staying mindful of your body’s reactions to exertion and the temperature, many heat-related sicknesses, like heat stroke, dehydration, and sunburn can be avoided and your summer will be a lot more enjoyable. Check out these resources from NIOSH or the MEMIC Safety Director for more information on heat street. Running in the USA is also a great resource for outdoor events and clubs.


July is National Ultraviolet (UV) Safety Month!

 SoaresPosted by Tony Soares, CSP, CHMM, CSHE

We knew the “dog days of summer” were coming. Now that they are here, we should all be thinking about taking care of our skin. We spend more time outdoors during the summer months and we’re more exposed to the sun. The summer heat might feel great on your skin, but taking appropriate precautions both at work and at home makes good sense.

Ultraviolet light (UV) is part of the invisible light spectrum that reaches us from the sun each day. In fact, there are three UV spectrums called A, B and C. UVC is blocked almost completely by the ozone layer. UVA, the longer light wave, penetrates deep into the lower layer of the dermis and can cause permanent skin damage, premature aging, and skin cancer. UVB is the shorter light wave and does not penetrate the skin as far, but it can still cause skin damage, sunburns, and also skin cancer.

Since both types of ultraviolet light are harmful, and both are responsible for skin cancer, choose a broad-spectrum (UVA and UVB protection) water-resistant (if you think you may be swimming or sweating) sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or higher.

A positive outcome from UVB exposure is the production of vitamin D, an organic compound essential for bone health and immune system function. However, using this as an excuse to work on your tan can lead to real problems, and isn’t a complete source for vitamin D. Consider this excerpt taken from the Skin Cancer Foundation website:

  • Our bodies manufacture vitamin D when the sun's ultraviolet B (UVB) rays interact with 7-dehydrocholesterol (7-DHC) present in the skin. "However, we can produce only a limited amount of vitamin D from UVB. A few minutes at midday are sufficient for many Caucasians," says Roy Geronemus, MD, clinical professor of dermatology at New York University Medical Center and director of the Skin/Laser Division at the New York Eye & Ear Infirmary. "After reaching the production limit, further exposure actually destroys the vitamin, decreasing vitamin D levels."
  • Furthermore, UV exposure is unlikely to produce enough vitamin D in darker skin, so African-Americans and dark-skinned Hispanics relying on UV alone are especially at risk for deficiency. The National Institutes of Health's Office of Dietary Supplements also warns that the elderly have a reduced ability to synthesize vitamin D from sunlight; and between November and February, UV radiation (UVR) is insufficient to produce vitamin D in people living above 42 north latitude, which includes Boston, northern California, and other areas north.
  • Finally, prolonged exposure to UVR is linked to skin cancer, immune system suppression, photoaging (sun-induced skin aging), cataracts, and other eye damage. Therefore, The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends obtaining vitamin D largely from food or supplements while continuing to follow the Foundation's skin cancer Prevention Guidelines.

According to OSHA, workers must be protected against known hazards. UV radiation is certainly a known hazard. Although sunscreen can be considered appropriate PPE for workers exposed to the sun, it also appears on the list of PPE items that employers are not required to pay for. But that doesn’t mean that workers are on their own, or that employers shouldn’t be concerned about protecting their workers exposed to the sun. Workers should limit their time in the sun, especially between 10 AM and 4 PM, wear clothing to cover the skin (including a hat), wear sunglasses, and reapply sunscreen every 2 hours.

For more information on sunscreen protection, please visit the Skin Cancer Foundation website, the Cancer Net website, the CDC website or our previous sun safety posts.


Don’t Hold the Ice: Crushed Ice for Control of Heat Stress

JonesPosted by Anthony Jones, R.N., COHN

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)

Heat Exhaustion:

  • Heavy sweating
  • Weakness
  • Cold, pale, and clammy skin
  • Fast, weak pulse
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fainting

Heat Stroke

  • 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. 

Check out this OSHA Quick Card and Heat Stress Guide or these other Safety Net posts for additional information.  Stay safe this summer!


Preventing Heat Stress in the Workplace

Tonya-Hawker Posted by Tonya Hawker

It’s summertime, and that means hot temperatures. Employees who work outdoors or inside hot environments are at risk for heat stress illnesses. In fact, it’s not surprising to see many production environments that are not air conditioned, and temperatures can quickly reach dangerous levels. That’s why it is important to protect your employees from the “Hazards of the Heat”.       

Heat stress occurs when the body becomes unable to cool itself. There are many factors that may cause heat-related illnesses. High temperatures during summer months are the most obvious causes of heat stress, but there are other factors that contribute to this condition, including:

  • Low fluid intake by the worker (dehydration)     
  • Direct sun exposure (with no shade) for long periods (i.e. Landscaping/Facilities Maintenance, etc.)
  • Extreme heat from job task (i.e. No A/C in Service Departments, Paint Booths, etc.)
  • Limited air movement
  • Physical exertion
  • Use of bulky protective clothing and equipment
  • Poor physical condition or on-going health problems
  • Some medications 
  • Lack of previous exposure to hot workplaces
  • Excessive alcohol intake the day before
  • Previous heat-related illnesses

Types of Heat Disorders  

Heat-related illnesses often begin with minor symptoms. Heat fatigue is usually the first symptom. Conditions include a decline in performance (particularly physical activity), mental tasks, or tasks requiring concentration. Heat can also increase the risk of other injuries due to sweaty palms losing grip on tools, fogged-up safety glasses limiting visibility, dizziness and balance issues, as well as burns from hot surfaces.

More serious heat disorders include:  Heat Rash, Heat Cramps, Heat Exhaustion, and the deadliest risk is  Heat Stroke. Employees and Supervisors should be trained to recognize these symptoms and administer treatment plans. Here are the guidelines:

Heat Rash is the most common problem resulting from working in heated environments. A heat rash produces blister-like raised bumps on the skin that may itch or be painful to the touch. Treatment includes limiting time in the hot environment, keep the skin dry, and shower promptly after being in the heat.

Heat Cramps are painful muscle spasms that occur in the leg, arm, or abdomen. The cramps occur as a result of extended physical activity in a hot environment. Heat cramps are the first sign of dehydration. The worker should rest and drink water and electrolyte liquids like Gatorade. Eat salty crackers to increase salt in-take. DO NOT use salt tablets.

Heat Exhaustion is a result of the combination of excessive heat and dehydration. This is a serious condition, which left untreated, can lead to heat stroke. Symptoms include headache, nausea, dizziness &/or fainting, weakness, heavy sweating, thirst, moist-clammy skin, elevated body temperature. Employees in this condition should be moved to a cool, shaded area. Cool the worker with water or cold compresses to the head, neck and face. Drink water and electrolyte liquids like Gatorade. If the worker cannot drink or becomes lethargic, call 911. Make sure someone stays with the worker until help arrives.

Heat Stroke is the most serious illness associated with working in heated environments. If left untreated, heat strokes will result in death. Symptoms include hot dry skin (sweating may or may not still be present), red-bluish skin, rapid pulse, confusion, loss of consciousness, seizures/convulsions, very high body temperature. Call 911 immediately. Soak clothing and skin in cool water and use a fan to create air movement. Make sure someone stays with the worker until help arrives.

Preventing Heat Disorders

The best way to prevent heat illness is to make the work environment cooler. If the work environment is not air conditioned, then consider installing portable fans and air chillers. If cooling devices are not available and/or temperatures remain excessive, other measures should be taken to minimize the heat related effects.

Workers who are new to a job in a hot environment, or workers who have been away for more than a week should be acclimatized to the work environment. This means that the worker should start out slow and work up to the physical activities required in the hot environment. NIOSH recommends the following schedule:

  • Employees with no prior exposure to hot environments - start out at 20% exposure per day with a 20% increase in exposure each additional day until full day exposure is reached.
  • Employees with recent prior exposure to hot environments- start out at 50% exposure on day 1, 60% exposure on day 2, 80% exposure on day 3, and 100% exposure on day 4.

Employees should be provided plenty of water and electrolyte liquids when working in hot environments. On average, workers should be encouraged to drink 1 cup of water (or electrolyte liquid) every 15-20 minutes. The use of salt tablets is not recommended, but a small amount of salt with food is encouraged during hot days to replenish the minerals lost from sweating.

Frequent breaks are necessary. Breaks should be provided in areas that are cooler than the work environment. If possible, heavy work should be scheduled during the cooler parts of the day and appropriate protective clothing provided. Consider using shifts and assigning additional workers for work pacing during excessively hot work-shifts. The permissible heat exposure threshold recommended by OSHA will vary depending on the type of work completed and air temperature within the work environment. For more information on specific work/rest restrictions, see the OSHA website. OSHA also provides a mobile device app that can be used to calculate the heat index and includes reminders and protective measures to take based upon the heat index.

  image from www.cdc.gov