Summer can be a dangerous time of year for employees in many professions – particularly those that work in jobs outside in the heat for extended periods of time. Knowing how to work safely in hot weather can help prevent heat stress and heat stroke, among other heat-related health issues.
FR Clothing & Heat Stress
The best way to beat the heat in summer is to dress appropriately. This can be hard to do when your job requires specific uniforms or safety clothing. With an increase in regulation surrounding the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and FRC, comes higher risk of heat-related illness. If you are required to wear FR clothing outside in hot temperatures, it is especially important for you to keep these safety tips in mind.
While it’s tempting to want to take off extra clothing or layers deemed as unnecessary, workers need to be vigilant about compliance. Protective clothing doesn’t protect you when it’s not on your body!
Hydrating regularly, taking breaks from the heat and limiting exposure to heat and direct sunlight all help prevent against heat stress. As summer winds down, it’s important to remember these three tips to work safely during these remaining hot days.
Depending on your location, the feeling of heat you get from high temperatures can vary. It might feel hot but not overwhelmingly so in drier climates like the southwestern part of the United States. However, when you factor in humidity, 95 degrees can really feel well over 100 degrees in states where there is more moisture in the air.
In fact, humidity reduces the effectiveness of sweating in cooling the body by reducing the rate of evaporation of moisture from the skin (2). Regardless of where you work, a humid or dry climate, hot temperatures will eventually cause everyone to perspire. Understanding what happens next can help save lives.
It’s hard to properly identify symptoms when you don’t know what exactly to look for. Common symptoms of heat stress include:
Heat exhaustion can occur after you’ve been exposed to high temperatures for several days and have become dehydrated. The two main types of heat exhaustion are water depletion and salt depletion. It’s important to note that heat exhaustion is not as serious as heat stroke. However, without proper diagnosis or treatment, heat exhaustion can progress into heat stroke which can cause damage to the brain and other vital organs, or even death (4).
Heat stroke is the most serious risk for those who work outside during the summer, and should be treated as a medical emergency. Heat stroke occurs when the body can no longer control its own temperature, leading to damage of the brain and other internal organs (5). If emergency treatment is not provided, heat stroke can cause permanent disability or even death.
Heat stroke often occurs as a progression from a milder heat-related illness. The telltale sign that someone is suffering from heat stroke is when their core body temperature has risen above 105 degrees. Other symptoms of heat stroke include nausea, seizures, confusion, disorientation and sometimes loss of consciousness or even a comatose state (5).
Hot weather can add extra strain to your workday. This is particularly true if you already suffer from preexisting ailments, such as high blood pressure. When you face extremely high temperatures, your body is already working hard just to cool off, so it’s important not to overdo it. Take frequent breaks by resting in the shade and be sure to hydrate. It’s best to avoid drinks that have high amounts of caffeine or large amounts of sugar.
Awareness of risks during summer months, proper identification of symptoms, and environmental and body temperature monitoring programs are all countermeasures that, if implemented, will reduce illnesses related to heat stress (1). By following the three easy steps above, you’re able to work safely and avoid heat stress during these last summer months even when you’re required to dress in FRC or safety clothing.
For additional information:
Check out OSHA’s Heat Safety Tool mobile app to calculate the heat index for your location and receive reminders about how to prevent heat stress on the job. This app is one of many resources OSHA is offering as part of its Heat Illness Prevention Campaign (6).
References for this blog post were accessed August 2013:
(1) OHS: Occupational Health & Safety magazine, March 2013, Walking the Path to Effective Controls: