Learn the signs of heat exhaustion, take precautions
Salem, OR — As temperatures rise this – and every – summer, Oregon OSHA encourages employers and workers in construction, agriculture and other labor-intensive activities to learn the signs of heat illness and focus on prevention.
The call to address the hazards of working in high heat is part of a larger heat stress prevention program launched July 11 by Oregon OSHA. Under the program, the agency’s enforcement and consultation activities will include a review of employers’ plans to deal with heat exposure, especially from June 15 through Oct. 1 of each year.
The prevention program applies to both outdoor job sites and indoor workplaces where potential heat-related hazards may exist.
Exposure to heat can lead to headaches, cramps, dizziness, fatigue, nausea or vomiting, and even seizures or death. From 2011 to 2016, 36 people received benefits through Oregon’s workers’ compensation system for heat-related illnesses.
“Employers and workers in Oregon need to be especially aware of the dangers of working in high heat,” said Penny Wolf-McCormick, health enforcement manager for Oregon OSHA. “That’s because workers here tend to be used to working in mild weather and are frequently not acclimated to this type of heat.”
“The focus should be on prevention,” added Wolf-McCormick. “Employers need to provide drinking water, offer shaded places for workers to take breaks, and to watch for signs of trouble.”
Those signs of trouble include headaches, cramps, dizziness, fatigue, or nausea.
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, and 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).
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 more severe condition than heat exhaustion and can result in death. Immediately call for emergency help if you think the person is suffering from heat stroke.
Employers can calculate the heat index for their worksite with the federal OSHA heat stress app for mobile phones. A number of other tools are available on the federal OSHA website.
Oregon OSHA has a booklet available in both English and Spanish with tips for working in the heat.
Oregon OSHA also offers a pocket-sized heat stress card – available in both English and Spanish – that includes information about the risks of exposure to high temperature and high humidity.
For more information about heat stress and prevention of heat-related illness, visit our heat stress topic page.