Understand the signs of heat exhaustion; take precautions
Salem, OR — Imagine cooking over a hot stove or working on a rooftop construction site when temperatures climb into the 90s and higher. Outdoor jobs become more than just uncomfortable – workers risk developing a heat-related illness when physical activity and high temperatures are combined.
Oregon OSHA, a division of the Department of Consumer and Business Services, encourages employers and workers to understand common signs of heat exhaustion. A person overcome with heat exhaustion will still sweat but may experience extreme fatigue, nausea, lightheadedness, or a headache. The person could have clammy and moist skin, a pale complexion, and a normal or only slightly elevated body temperature. If heat exhaustion is not treated promptly, the illness could progress to heat stroke, and possibly even death.
“Workers in Oregon aren’t acclimated to working in this type of heat,” said Penny Wolf-McCormick, health enforcement manager for Oregon OSHA. “It’s important to drink water, seek shade during the day, and recognize the signs of trouble.”
From 2008 through 2012, 35 people received benefits through Oregon’s workers’ compensation system for heat-related illnesses. In at least two of the cases, truck drivers without air conditioning suffered from heat exhaustion.
To help those suffering from heat exhaustion:
- Move them to a cool, shaded area. Do not leave them alone.
- Loosen and remove heavy clothing.
- Provide cool water to drink (a small cup every 15 minutes) if they are not feeling sick to their stomach.
- Try to cool them by fanning them. Cool the skin with a spray mist of cold water or a wet cloth.
- If they do not feel better in a few minutes, call 911 for emergency help.
Certain medications, wearing personal protective equipment while on the job, and a past case of heat stress create a higher risk for heat illness.
Heat stroke is a different condition than heat exhaustion. There are several reactions that occur in the human body with heat stroke: hot, red skin (looks like a sunburn); mood changes; irritability and confusion; and collapsing (person will not respond to verbal commands). Call for emergency help immediately if you think the person is suffering from heat stroke. If not treated quickly, the condition can result in death.
Here are some tips for preventing a heat-related illness:
- Perform the heaviest, most labor-intensive work during the coolest part of the day.
- Use the buddy system (work in pairs) to monitor the heat.
- Drink plenty of cool water (one small cup every 15 to 20 minutes).
- Wear light, loose-fitting, breathable clothing (such as cotton).
- Take frequent short breaks in cool, shaded areas – allow your body to cool down.
- Avoid eating large meals before working in hot environments.
- Avoid caffeine and alcoholic beverages (these make the body lose water and increase the risk of heat illnesses).
Employers can calculate the heat index for their worksite with the federal OSHA heat stress app for mobile phones. The tool is available at https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatillness/heat_index/heat_app.html. A number of other tools are also available at https://www.osha.gov/heat/index.html.
Oregon OSHA also has a pocket-sized booklet available, in both English and Spanish, with tips for working in the heat: 4926.pdf (English version).