By Jerry Rivera, Safety Director of Washington, D.C. Chapter of NECA
The summer season in the Mid-Atlantic has been brutal with temperatures rising well above the 90’s and humidity levels well above 50%. This extreme weather pattern can be particularly dangerous to workers who are required to work outdoors.
The dangers to outdoor workers can manifest themselves in the worst form of heat related illnesses such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke. These dangers are real and very serious. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports that in 2014 over 2,630 workers suffered from heat illness and 18 died from heat stroke and related causes on the job. This is a troubling trend since heat illnesses and deaths are more often preventable.
Heat Exhaustion & Heat Stroke
WebMD defines heat exhaustion and heat stroke as:
Heat Exhaustion is a heat-related illness that can occur after you’ve been exposed to high temperatures, and it often is accompanied by dehydration. There are two types of heat exhaustion:
- Water depletion – Signs include excessive thirst, weakness, headache, and loss of consciousness.
- Salt depletion – Signs include nausea and vomiting, muscle cramps, and dizziness.
Heat stroke is the most serious form of heat injury and is considered a medical emergency. The medical definition of heat stroke is a core body temperature greater than 105 degrees Fahrenheit, with complications involving the central nervous system that occur after exposure to high temperatures.
For those who are required to work outdoors OSHA suggest a simple formula, Rest, Water and Shade.
Employers must protect workers from exc essive heat. Under OSHA law, employers are responsible for providing workplaces free of known safety hazards. This includes protecting workers from extreme heat.
Employer with workers exposed to high temperatures should establish a complete heat illness prevention program. This program should:
- Provide workers with water, rest and shade;
- Allow new or returning workers to gradually increase workloads and take more frequent breaks as they acclimatize, or build a tolerance for working in the heat;
- Plan for emergencies and train workers on prevention and;
- Monitor workers for signs of illness.
Sunburn is an inflammation of the skin caused by overexposure to UV radiation from the sun. Immediate symptoms of sunburn arehot, red, tender skin; pain when the skin is touched or rubbed; and dehydration. The damage to the body’s outer skin can be visible several days after exposure when the skin may, swell, blister, peel, and itch. Long term sun exposure could lead to skin cancer.
Employers can help employees by providing sun screen lotion, shaded areas or implementing work cycles that limit employee’s exposure to direct sunlight.
Remember, there can always be lots of fun in the sun if we take some simple precautions to guard against sun and heat related injuries and illnesses. Just remember the simple formula that OSHA provides for us Rest, Water and Shade!