As summer approaches and the days get longer, the dangers of working outside during hot weather also increases. Knowing how to work safely in hot weather can help prevent heat stress injuries and heat stroke. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), heat stroke is the most serious heat-related disorder and occurs when the body can no longer control its temperature. The body temperature can rise to 106 degrees Fahrenheit or higher within 10 to 15 minutes and heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not provided. Other heat-related disorders include heat exhaustion, heat cramps and heat rash.
Heat stroke occurs when the body no longer sweats and body temperature reaches dangerous levels. Symptoms of heat stroke include:
- Dry, hot reddish skin and lack of sweating
- High body temperature
- Strong, rapid pulse
- Slurred speech
Heat exhaustion is the body’s response to the loss of water and salt, typically through sweating. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include:
- Excessive sweating
- Weakness or fatigue
- Dizziness and/or confusion
- Clammy skin
- Muscle cramps
- Flushed complexion
Heat cramps are painful cramps in the body’s muscles due to low salt levels and are typically caused by excessive sweating. Symptoms of heat cramps include:
- Muscle pain usually in the abdomen, arm or legs.
- Muscle spasms usually in the abdomen, arm or legs.
Heat Rash is an irritation of the skin caused by excessive sweating. Symptoms of heat rash include:
- Red cluster of pimples or small blisters
- Usually on neck and upper chest, groin area, under the breasts, and in elbow creases.
Ten safety tips for working in the heat:
- Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids. Drink about 16 ounces before starting and 5 to 7 ounces every 15 or 20 minutes.
- Avoid alcohol, coffee, tea and caffeinated soft drinks.
- Wear protective clothing that is lightweight, light colored and loose fitting. Change clothing if it gets completely saturated.
- Slow down and work at an even pace. Know your own limits and ability to work safely in heat.
- Schedule frequent rest periods and water breaks in a shaded or air conditioned area.
- Use a damp rag to wipe your face and/or put around your neck.
- Use sunscreen and wear a hat if working outside to avoid getting sunburn.
- Check on other workers that might be at high risk. Be alert to signs of heat related illness.
- Avoid or block out direct sun if possible.
- Eat smaller meals. Eat fruits high in fiber and natural juice but avoid high protein foods.
Download a free handout to share with your employees on reducing the hazards of working in hot conditions.