Thursday, June 21, 2012

Heat Illness

Summer time is coming and workers on both sides of the Cascades need to be aware of heat illness.  By now all employers should know about Washington’s Outdoor Heat Exposure rule found in WAC 296-62-095.

Working outdoors in hot weather can result in serious illness or even death.  Workers exposed to extreme heat may experience symptoms of heat-related illnesses (HRI), such as heat cramps, heat rash, heat exhaustion, fainting, heat stroke, and other symptoms.

According to DOSH heat-related illness is also linked to injuries from falls, equipment operation accidents, and other on-the-job incidents. Such incidents can happen when someone with heat stress becomes fatigued, dizzy, confused, or disoriented.

Since heat can lead to other issues and potential incidents, it is important that all of us working out-of-doors take care to avoid heat illness issues. The most important thing to do is to hydrate the night before and stay hydrated.  Drink plenty of proper fluids the night before and continue to drink fluids (i.e., water or sport drinks) throughout the day.  Remember that we not only need water, but electrolytes, which can be gained from drinking sport drinks in addition to water.

In addition to taking care of ourselves, we have to look out for our co-workers whom may suffer the effects of heat illness.  The following are from the OSHA fact sheet on heat illness.

Heat Stroke is the most serious heat-related health problem. Heat stroke occurs when the body's temperature regulating system fails and body temperature rises to critical levels (greater than 104°F).This is a medical emergency that may result in death! The signs of heat stroke are confusion, loss of consciousness and seizures. Workers experiencing heat stroke have a very high body temperature and may stop sweating. If a worker shows signs of possible heat stroke, get medical help immediately, and call 911. Until medical help arrives, move the worker to a shady, cool area and remove as much clothing as possible. Wet the worker with cool water and circulate the air to speed cooling. Place cold wet cloths, wet towels or ice all over the body or soak the worker’s clothing with cold water. 

Heat Exhaustion is the next most serious heat-related health problem. The signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion are headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, irritability, confusion, thirst, heavy sweating and a body temperature greater than 100.4°F. Workers with heat exhaustion should be removed from the hot area and given liquids to drink. Remove unnecessary clothing including shoes and socks. Cool the worker with cold compresses to the head, neck, and face or have the worker wash his or her head, face and neck with cold water. Encourage frequent sips of cool water. Workers with signs or symptoms of heat exhaustion should be taken to a clinic or emergency room for medical evaluation and treatment. Make sure that someone stays with the worker until help arrives. If symptoms worsen, call 911 and get help immediately. 

Heat Cramps are muscle pains usually caused by physical labor in a hot work environment. Heat cramps are caused by the loss of body salts and fluid during sweating. Workers with heat cramps should replace fluid loss by drinking water and/or carbohydrate-electrolyte replacement liquids (e.g., sports drinks) every 15 to 20 minutes.

Contributed by Eric Tofte, Director of Training, Evergreen Safety Council

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