It didn't seem particularly hot that day. And we were already pushing up against the deadline, so me and some of the guys decided to work through lunch. I figured I'd get something to drink at the afternoon break. I never got a chance to do that. By 3pm, I was in the ambulance with heart palpitations.
Anyone who is exposed to hot conditions for an extended period of time can succumb to heat stroke and heat exhaustion. These heat-related illnesses can cause a wide range of symptoms, such as:
- Changes in respiration
- Changes in heart rate
- Rapid and potentially life-threatening fluctuations in the core body temperature
Workers can't always control the temperatures they have to work in. But they can take charge of their safety by taking a few precautions.
Taking It Easy as a Safety Measure
Every year, OSHA releases its updated "Water. Rest. Shade." heat safety education campaign. Those three words sum up what everyone needs if they are working in hot temperatures: staying hydrated, resting when needed, and minimizing exposure to direct sunlight.
Rest is crucial for heat stress safety, but it is a broad category. Worker can rest by taking more frequent breaks, for instance. Or, they can work rest into their shift by working at a comfortable pace instead of pushing themselves to do the work as quickly as possible.
Heat stroke is on a lot of people's minds when temperatures reach their high point. But it's important to remember that heat-related incidents can happen at far lower temperatures than many people realize. It doesn't take triple-digit heat to put workers at risk, especially if they do intense or physically demanding jobs. In fact, medical professionals recommend building in more rest and breaks when temperatures reach 75 F – at least until a worker has acclimatized to the higher temperatures, which can take more than a week.
Although some employers may be concerned that more rest will negatively impact productivity and ultimately their bottom line, most studies indicate that judicious rest keeps workers happy, healthy, and productive.
Keeping the Heat in Mind
There are so many tangible workplace safety issues to worry about – from extension cords laying across walking surfaces to power tools that could do a lot of damage if not handled properly – it's easy to forget that the ambient temperature can pose risks of its own. Employers should not wait until the hottest days of the month to remind workers that taking it easy isn't slacking off – it's taking safety seriously.
For more weather safety advice, check out Ergodyne's Heat Stress Toolbox Talks.