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Minimizing workplace heat-related illness

Help your employees beat the summer heat

  • Aug 02, 2017

People performing manual occupations that include strenuous outdoor work face an important health hazard from heat exposure and associated heat-related illness. Construction, yard service and agriculture workers are among those at highest risk, but anyone is potentially in danger if they work:

  • In an environment with the ambient temperature above 90 degrees
  • Wearing wet clothes and shoes
  • Using personal protective equipment
  • While taking certain prescription medications
  • More than three days in a row in very hot conditions
  • And return to homes featuring a hot environment without air conditioning

Symptoms of heat-related illness include: sudden muscle cramps; nausea or vomiting; hot, dry skin; confusion and dizziness. These symptoms, left untreated, can lead to seizures, coma or death.

The heat index is an important factor in determining risk for heat-related illness. Also known as the apparent temperature, is the temperature felt by the skin when taking the humidity level account, not just the air temperature. Heat index calculators are available for electronic devices, and here’s an example: an air temperature of 90 combines with a humidity level of 45 percent for a heat index of 93, but that same air temperature of 90 when accompanied by a humidity level of 70 percent produces a heat index of 105.

At a heat index of 80 to 90, symptoms of fatigue are possible with prolonged exposure and risk. When the heat index is between 90 and 103, extreme caution is required as heat stroke, heat cramps or heat exhaustion can occur with prolonged exposure. When heat index values rise to 103-124, active intervention is necessary for workers to avoid heat cramps and heat exhaustion, which is possible with prolonged exposure. At values 124 and above, heat stroke is highly likely.

Changing or rotating work hours or activities so workers are not exposed to extreme heat conditions for more than 2-3 consecutive days is a measure that can lessen the risk for heat-related illness. Other tips to do so include:

  • Drink more water
  • Take breaks in cooler areas
  • Go to an air-conditioned location after work