Learn the signs of heat exhaustion; take precautions
Salem, OR — Landscaping, construction, and agriculture are some of the outdoor jobs that can expose workers to dangerous high heat. Labor-intensive activities in hot weather can raise body temperatures beyond the level that normally can be cooled by sweating and may lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
Oregon OSHA, a division of the Department of Consumer and Business Services, encourages employers and workers to learn the signs of heat illness and take precautions. 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.
"Water, rest, and shade are the three things to remember," said Penny Wolf-McCormick, health enforcement manager for Oregon OSHA. "Employers should ensure workers are taking water breaks throughout the day and provide shade to give their body time to recover."
From 2009 through 2013, 33 people received benefits through Oregon's workers' compensation system for heat-related illnesses. The majority of claims each year occur in July.
"Many Oregon workers aren't used to this type of heat and may need time to acclimate," Wolf-McCormick said.
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). Immediately call for emergency help 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 www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatillness/heat_index/heat_app.html. A number of other tools are also available at 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: English version and Spanish version.