Temperatures across the United States are starting to heat up. Employers must be cognizant of the impact these rising temps have on employees who work outside.
First things first. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) put together the following list of symptoms of heat illness and first aid solutions:
- Sunburn: Redness and pain. In severe cases, swelling of skin, blisters, fever and headaches. Response: Ointments for mild cases if blisters appear and do not break. If breaking occurs, apply dry sterile dressing.
- Heat cramps: Painful spasms usually in the muscles of legs and abdomen with heavy sweating. Response: Firm pressure on cramping muscles or gentle massage to relieve spasm. Give sips of water. If nausea occurs, discontinue water.
- Heat exhaustion: Heavy sweating; weakness; cold, pale, clammy skin; increased pulse; fainting and vomiting but might have normal temperature. Response: Get victim out of sun. Once inside, the person should lay down and loosen his or her clothing. Apply cool, wet cloths. Fan or move victim to air conditioned room. Offer sips of water. If nausea occurs, discontinue water. If vomiting continues, seek immediate medical attention.
- Heat stroke (or sunstroke): High body temperature (106° F or higher), hot dry skin, rapid and strong pulse, possible unconsciousness. Response: Heat stroke is a severe medical emergency. Summon emergency medical assistance or get the victim to a hospital immediately. Delay can be fatal. While waiting for emergency assistance, move the victim to a cooler environment and reduce body temperature with cold bath or sponging. Use extreme caution. Remove clothing, use fans and air conditioners. If temperature rises again, repeat process. Do NOT give fluids. Persons on salt restrictive diets should consult a physician before increasing their salt intake.
While the first aid tips are handy, everyone knows that the best medicine is also preventative medicine. So, stop heat illness before it starts with these simple precautions:
- Drink, Break and Shade. Make sure employees drink water, often, and ensure employees are given sufficient breaks to allow for hydration. When possible, allow breaks to be taken in the shade and out of the sun.
- Lightweight Clothing. Employees should wear lightweight, light-colored clothing. If employees are required to wear uniforms, employers should make sure summer uniforms are lightweight, light- colored fabric.
- Work at a Gradual Pace. Employees should work up to heavy assignments. This means gradually increasing employee workloads until the employees are able to withstand the heat.
- Time Strenuous Activities. Employers should schedule strenuous activities to be completed during the cooler part of the day, if possible.
- Pay Attention. Employers should regularly check the heat index. According to The National Weather Service, the heat index can make all the difference in how safe it is to work outside on a given day.
- Train. The signs of heat illness and the proper responsive steps are provided above, but that only does an employer good if employees are trained. Employees should understand how the heat impacts the body, how and when to respond to symptoms, and steps to avoid heat incidents.
OSHA’s Heat Illness Prevention Training Guide, which is available here, includes helpful training information in short, interactive lesson plans.
There’s an App for That.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued the “Heat Safety Tool” app, which is a free app for most Smartphone devices that allows employers to monitor the heat index at their worksites. According to a news release, the app displays a risk level for workers based on the heat index, as well as reminders about protective measures that should be taken at the given risk level. The app is available for download here. Now to help diffuse any disputes between indoor workers who complain about what temperature the thermostat should be set, in a 2003 memo, available here, OSHA recommended that the temperature range between 68-76 degrees Fahrenheit and humidity control in the range of 20-60 percent.