With rising temperatures across the nation, now more than ever it’s important to prioritize heat safety and heat injury prevention during hot summer months. Understanding the signs of heat related illness and the importance of staying cool and hydrating can help prevent serious injury. Here are a few important facts about heat injury as it can occur in the workplace, as well as some actionable safety tips to help keep you and your family stay cool.
- Heat stress and heat exposure are responsible for as many as 2,000 worker fatalities each year and at least 50,000 annual heat injuries and illnesses are avoidable
- Not only are 170,000 US workers injured in heat stress related accidents annually, but that risk increases by 1% for every 1 degrees Celsius.
- Among the most substantially impacted are low-income workers. For instance, the lowest paid 20% of workers are five times as likely to suffer a heat-related injury as the top 20% paid workers.
- Worker productivity declines dramatically with increased heat and humidity levels. There’s nearly a 2.6% decline in productivity per degree Celsius above a Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) of 24°C (75.2°F)
- A lack of employer heat safety implementation measures costs the U.S. economy an estimated $100 billion every year
While an effective and holistic OSHA heat standard could be the long-term solution, the reality is that these injuries and deaths can be mitigated by understanding the signs of heat stroke and practicing necessary prevention tips.
Obviously staying hydrated is a key way to combat the effects heat exhaustion and heat stroke can have on the body. The truth is dehydration can occur rapidly in extreme heat conditions. This leads to dizziness, headaches, and nausea along with an overall increase in body temperature. The average person should consume a recommended 3 quarters (¾ gallon) per day. For workers dealing with extreme heat conditions, the CDC recommends 1 cup (8 ounces) of water every 15–20 minutes. This translates to ¾–1 quart (24–32 ounces) per hour. Ideally, water in the workplace should be easily accessible and continuously available for workers asked to withstand dangerously hot conditions.
Finding ways to stay cool indoors and outdoors is imperative in the effort to combat heat-related illness. Spending just a few hours each day in a well ventilated or air conditioned environment can prepare your body to withstand prolonged exposure to heat throughout the day. Wearing sunscreen helps prevent unnecessary sunburns and keeps the body cool.
For workers in high heat environments, indoor workplaces shouldn’t exceed 80 degrees and should be well ventilated or air conditioned. For dealing with temperatures that exceed 80 degrees, consistent and scheduled breaks should occur that provide a cool or shaded area to help deal with heavy workloads. Depending on the context of a potential workplace related injury, heat related injury victims may be entitled to damage compensation. Overall, it’s important for workers to avoid overextending themselves by trying to maintain a normal workload and normal pace in such extreme conditions.
Heat stroke is characterized by a combination of symptoms including headache, nausea, high body temperature, hot and red skin, dizziness, confusion, or loss of consciousness. A body temp at or above 103 degrees Fahrenheit is the sign of a severe medical emergency and it’s important to seek immediate medical attention in this case. Refrain from giving someone with heat stroke fluids, move them to a cooler or shady area, and use forms of cold compression to help reduce their body temperature.