While we all love summer, it isn’t without its challenges for workers. Each year, thousands of North American employees suffer severe heat-related illnesses. Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA) reported that heat and its related workplace problems kills over thirty American workers annually. Heat related dangers include heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Hot weather can raise body temperatures to dangerously high levels—especially in labor-intensive activities where direct exposure to the sun occurs.
OSHA recommends the following tips for keeping cool on the job in the summer:
1. Make water your friend
The best and most effective way to keep cool is to stay hydrated. This means at least eight ounces of water every 15 min. when temperatures climb. Have water readily available so workers can grab it at regular intervals is an effective and easy way to keep cool at work in the summer heat. Even when it isn’t hot, make a concerted effort to drink plenty of non-alcoholic, unsweetened drinks each day. If you don’t like the taste of water, try adding lemon slices.
2. Be smart about what you eat when it is hot
Mid-afternoon sugar cravings are more prevalent when it is hot outside. Avoid eating junk in the middle of the afternoon by having a bigger breakfast and a lighter lunch. Junk food takes longer to digest and steals the energy you need to get through the work day. Avoiding junk food keeps you more alert, more energetic and less likely to have a workplace accident.
3. Shift your work hours
As the employer or supervisor, changing working hours to take advantage of the earlier morning cooler temperatures is an easy way to deal with the high heat. Starting work in the cool hours of early morning and finishing in the early afternoon can prevent worker burnout and heat-related illnesses.
4. Order your tasks
If you are the employer or supervisor, scheduling heavy jobs earlier in the day and doing those tasks that occur in unshaded areas is also a way to cut the problems of heat exposure in the summer. Organizing the more physically demanding tasks for the cooler morning hours will leave workers with more energy for the energy-sapping mid-afternoon heat.
5. Work in the shade
Wherever and whenever possible, seek shade. Making use of natural shade like trees and using sunshade umbrellas for work and breaks is a good way to keep cooler and to avoid skin-cancer causing UV rays that are harmful.
6. Carry a radio
If you are going to be working in the sun for significant periods of time make sure you have a cell phone or a two-way radio close to call for help if you experience heat fatigue.
7. Use sunscreen
Use sunblock with a high SPF of 30 or higher to cut the severity of the sun’s UV rays. Apply sun block when you get up in the morning and reapply throughout the day. Wear protective clothing like thin, long sleeved tops and wide-brimmed, vented, sun shade hats and bandanas to protect from direct sunlight and sweat. Wide-brimmed hats keep you cooler and protect your heat, face, neck and ears from UV rays.
8. Take a break
If you begin to feel the effects of the heat, find shade. Rest to rebuild energy and let your co-workers know you are feeling the effects of the heat. Rehydrate and use a fan or cloths soaked in water to help lower your body temperature.
9. Notice the signs of heat distress
Know and watch for the signs of heat illness. Be aware of these signs in yourself and in fellow employees. Early warning signs include heat exhaustion, followed by heat cramps and finally heat stroke. Those suffering from heat stroke will experience dry, hot skin with no sweating, mental confusion or delirium, loss of consciousness, seizures and convulsions. When symptoms present, the person affected should lie down in the shade or a cooler area. Remove work boots and elevate feet above the heart to ease blood to the brain and decrease cardiac stress. Get fans going or use cold cloths to lower body temperature. Call 911 immediately if the worker becomes unconscious.
10. Review heat stress safety tips
Before the hot days of summer occur have a safety moment or tool box talk to review tips for staying cool in hot summer jobs. Also have a safety moment to review signs of heat illness and what to do if it occurs.
11. Identify high-risk workers
Workers who are at particularly high risk of heat stress are new-hires, and older employees over sixty-five. Those who are overweight and/or have hypertension or heart problems or workers on medication which may be affected by high heat are also high risk for heat illness.