As we enter the hottest months of the year, it is important to plan ahead for work-related heat exposure and the potential for heat-related illness among workers. Heat stress and heat strain can increase the risk of workplace injuries. Workers in a wide variety of industries are exposed to hot environments during work and are at risk for heat-related illness. A recent study identified public administration (35% of the total cases); agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting (13%); and construction (8%) as industry groups with the highest number of heat-related illnesses. Younger workers and male workers were at greater risk than other demographic groups. This study also found that 9% of heat-related illness cases happened to new workers within two weeks of hire.
Many workplace controls are available to minimize heat-related illness among workers. A complete heat stress program for the workplace should include assessing the risk, limiting heat exposure, reducing metabolic heat load, acclimating workers, encouraging hydration, and providing periodic training for heat stress and heat-related illness. Workplace-based educational programs have been shown to improve workers’ knowledge about heat illness; training has been identified as a central part of a heat stress educational program to decrease heat-related illness among outdoor workers.
When providing heat stress education and training, consider your workers and what delivery methods might work best.
Employers should provide heat stress training for all workers and supervisors on the following:
- Recognizing the signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses and administration of first aid.
- Causes of heat-related illnesses and the procedures that will minimize the risk, such as drinking enough water and monitoring the color and amount of urine output.
- Proper care and use of heat-protective clothing and equipment and the added heat load caused by exertion, clothing, and personal protective equipment.
- Effects of non-work factors (such as drugs, alcohol, obesity, etc.) on ability to adapt to occupational heat stress.
- The importance of acclimatization.
- The importance of immediately reporting to the supervisor any symptoms or signs of heat-related illness in themselves or in coworkers.
- Procedures for responding to symptoms of possible heat-related illness and for contacting emergency medical services.
In addition, supervisors should also be trained on:
- How to implement appropriate acclimatization.
- Procedures to follow when a worker has symptoms consistent with heat-related illness, including emergency response procedures.
- Monitoring weather reports and responding to hot weather advisories.
- Monitoring and encouraging adequate fluid intake and rest breaks.
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