Every year, thousands of workers become sick from heat exposure, and some cases are fatal. More than half of outdoor fatalities occur in the first few days of working in the heat because the body needs to gradually build a tolerance, known as heat acclimatization. Heat-related illness can affect workers in many industries, at both indoor or outdoor worksites. Some risk factors include outdoor work in warm weather, heat sources such as ovens or hot tar, strenuous physical activity, and heavy or non-breathable work clothes. Now another item that has to be taken into consideration is face coverings to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The face coverings can cause a person to overheat quickly due to hot conditions. Employers should plan ahead and train workers about personal factors that can make them more susceptible to heat illness. These factors include obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and level of physical fitness. Other medical conditions can also increase risks. When in doubt, workers should talk to their healthcare provider about whether they can work safely in the heat.
Create a Prevention Plan: Employers should create a written heat illness prevention plan. Elements to consider include:
- Who will provide daily oversight? Who will monitor weather reports for heat advisories?
- What engineering controls and work practices will be used to reduce heat stress?
- Who will provide training? Who will ensure that first aid and medical assistance are available?
- How will workers gradually develop heat tolerance? Consider re-acclimating workers returning from extended leave as well.
- Conducting a JHA (Job Hazard Analysis) and include the stress factor of wearing masks.
Heat conditions can change rapidly. A person at the worksite should be responsible for monitoring conditions and implementing the heat plan throughout the workday. That person might also be responsible for bringing shelter to create shade, if needed, and for ensuring a supply of cool drinking water. Training should cover identifying and controlling heat hazards, recognizing early symptoms of heat stress, providing first aid for heat-related illnesses, and contacting emergency medical services when needed.
Self-monitoring: Workers’ bodies will make adjustments to cope with the heat. The heart rate increases and sweating will increase. Eventually, skin temperature and core body temperature rise. Workers can self-monitor these responses. Some level of sweating may be expected, of course, but contributes to dehydration. Heart rate is easy to measure, and workers can be trained to count their pulse. Heart rate monitor wristwatches are also available. Employees might also monitor their body temperature using thermometers. This can give the worker an early warning of overheating. And don’t forget about the resources in our Risk Management Website (RMC):
• Safety videos • Policies and procedures
• Training materials • Posters
• Safety short-talks • Quizzes
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