What should I provide for outdoor workers who are at risk of heat stress?
Heat-related illnesses can be fatal, especially during hot summer days and in areas with high humidity. People who work outdoors during these months—especially those who perform more strenuous tasks, like landscapers and construction workers—are at a greater risk of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. It's important, then, for employers, supervisors, and safety professionals to do everything they can to keep outdoor workers safe during the summer months.
Provide plenty of water so your employees can keep hydrated. They should be drinking every fifteen minutes, even if they aren’t thirsty. Water is better than sports drinks, which are often high in sugar.
Offer shaded areas where employees can take a break to drink water and reapply sunscreen (at least SPF 15, applied liberally every two hours). Early in the season, it's a great idea to provide more frequent breaks to help employees re-acclimate to the sun and higher temperatures. It's also a good idea to provide frequent breaks when temperatures reach extreme levels. If possible, have workers avoid the most strenuous tasks during the middle of the workday, when the sun and heat are at peak levels.
You can also provide them with products that have been designed to combat heat stress on jobsites. Cooling towels, headbands, and neck bands can be worn while working and won't interfere with mobility. These products use an evaporative process to keep employees cool without slowing down their work.
Employees should be trained to notice and recognize the signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses: dizziness, headache, sweating, muscle weakness or cramping, nausea and vomiting, and rapid heartbeat. Companies should also implement heat illness prevention programs and properly train people at all levels of the company on the established protocols. Encourage your teams to look out for each other since it's more likely that you will recognize symptoms in another person before you notice that you are experiencing them yourself.
Remember, any worker can be at risk for heat-related illnesses because hot and humid conditions don’t discriminate. But be aware that some individuals are at a higher risk for heat-related incidents because of pre-existing conditions (like heart disease), certain medications known to cause dehydration, or because they are fighting another illness like the flu.
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