Working outdoors on hot days is never pleasant, but as temperatures climb in the summer months the heat and sun can pose serious health risks for your employees. Excessive or long-term exposure to heat without adequate precautions can cause a wide-range of heat-related illnesses and issues. Dozens of outdoor workers die and thousands become ill each year due to exposure to extreme heat and humidity.
While more than 40 percent of these deaths and illnesses occur in the construction industry, every field with outdoor workers is at risk. Basic precautions and an abundance of awareness can make all the difference. Help keep your employees safe during summer heat waves by following these tips.
Dressing appropriately when working outdoors is more important than you think. While it may be tempting to go for a “less is more” approach, you actually want to encourage your employees to stay covered for adequate protection.
Lightweight, loose-fitting, and light-colored clothing gives your workers the best protection from the sun’s rays and against the heat. Since sweating is a given in extreme heat, you should encourage your employees to change clothes any time they’ve become completely saturated. Wet clothing inhibits the body’s ability to regulate its temperature by sweating, increasing the likelihood of heat-related illness.
Provide washcloths in cool water for your employees to wipe their faces with and encourage them to drape them around their necks while working to help keep them cool. Additionally, provide sunscreen for your employees and encourage them to wear and reapply it often. Hats provide extra protection from UV rays for the face and should be worn any time that employees are going to be outdoors for extended periods.
While the pace of work is often dictated by production or customer demands, the summer heat necessitates that employees slow down and work at an even pace. Know your employees’ limits so they are safely able to work in the heat.
Employees should have the opportunity for rest and breaks in shaded or air-conditioned areas. Whenever possible, encourage employees to work in shaded areas, or consider setting up portable tents that offer some sun protection.
If possible, consider shifting work schedules so that employees are not working outdoors during the hottest hours of the day. If employees have to be outside between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., ensure that they are allowed to take frequent breaks and they aren’t over-exerting themselves.
Before you head out the door to work, it may seem wise to fill up on a hearty breakfast, but when the temperature is high, smaller, lighter meals are your friend. Encourage employees to eat light and enjoy small snacks periodically throughout the day.
Light meals that are high in fiber and natural juice and low in protein help keep your employees naturally hydrated throughout the day. Offer light snacks and plenty of fluids for your employees throughout the work day.
The most important thing for you and your employees to remember when working outside is to stay hydrated. Taking in plenty of fluids is the best way for them to avoid succumbing to heat-related illnesses.
Before beginning work for the day, make sure that every employee drinks at least 16 ounces of water, and continues to consume at least one cup of water every 15 to 20 minutes throughout the workday. While ice water may be tempting as the heat rises, cold water causes the blood vessels in the stomach to constrict, reducing the rate of fluid absorption. Instead, offer cool water to your workers, it absorbs into the body faster and keeps them hydrated when working in the heat.
It’s important to note that not all fluids provide an adequate level of hydration. Coffee, tea, and caffeinated soft drinks are all dehydrating liquids that can hurt more than they help. Lots of water and small amounts of natural fruit juices are your employees’ best friend when working outside.
Heat-related illnesses pose a serious health risk for those working outdoors. Employees and their managers should familiarize themselves with OSHA’s fact sheet on heat-related illnesses that includes warning signs, symptoms, and First Aid recommendations. Heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, and heat rash are the most common heat-related illnesses that your employees face when working outdoors.
Heat stroke occurs when the body no longer sweats and your 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.
Stay cool with your partners at Sheakley
Your employees are your greatest asset and protecting them during summer heat is a top priority for your company. Developing a plan to keep your employees safe, cool, and protected in the heat not only keeps your employees healthy, it can also help you control your workers’ compensation costs and reduce your company’s liability. Sheakley’s team of workplace safety professionals can help create a safety plan to keep your employees safe while working in the heat.
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