When working in hot and warm environments, planning and supervision are required to ensure worker safety. Heat illnesses are preventable, yet every year thousands of workers become sick from occupational heat exposure. Hazardous heat exposures can occur outdoors and indoors, and during any time of the year if the conditions are right. Expect that workers returning after a prolonged absence due to quarantine measures will require additional training and reminders.

Heat stress prevention

Heat stress illnesses often occur within the first few days of working in a warm or hot environment. Building up a gradual tolerance to heat over time helps the body adjust to the warmer temperature. This process is called acclimatization. If the body is not given enough time to build up its heat tolerance, there is a high risk factor for negative and even fatal outcomes.

Employers are responsible for providing workplaces free of known safety hazards. If your employees are exposed to high temperatures, you should have a heat illness prevention program in place. Your prevention program should:

  • Provide workers with water, rest, and shade.
  • Allow returning or new workers to gradually acclimatize to working in the heat.
  • Provide worker training.
  • Monitor workers for heat stress signs.
  • Plan for emergencies.

Training is crucial to preventing heat-related illnesses. Employers should train workers to understand:

  • How heat effects their health.
  • Heat stress signs and symptoms.
  • How to respond to heat stress symptoms.
  • How to prevent heat illnesses.

Heat-related illnesses

The body relies on its ability to get rid of excess heat through heat dissipation. This happens naturally through sweating and allows the body to maintain a healthy internal body temperature. If this doesn’t happen quickly enough, the body’s internal temperature keeps rising, resulting in the development of a rash, thirst, irritability, cramping, heat exhaustion, or heat stroke. Heat stroke is the most severe heat-related illness. If you suspect a worker has heat stroke, immediately call 911 and begin to cool the worker. If you would like to share a summary of the various heat-related illness and their signs and symptoms with your employees, the CDC’s First Aid for Heat Illness provides a comprehensive overview.

Mitigating heat illnesses during COVID-19

Because of COVID-19, many worksites are under special restrictions including having to wear a mask and practice social distancing. These measures can make it more difficult to recognize heat stress signs. If possible, consider having workers wear face shields in place of face masks to help reduce heat stress. Workers who have been unable to work during the pandemic may also need to acclimatize. Encourage workers to ask each other questions about how they are feeling throughout the workday to help identify signs of heat-related illness among their co-workers.

Consider shifting work schedules to cooler parts of the day, offering more frequent breaks, and allowing employees to rest in a shaded area or their air-conditioned vehicle during their breaks. Hydration is even more critical while wearing a mask in the heat, and employers should provide individual water bottles instead of a shared water cooler to reduce potential spread of the virus.

RETTEW’s Safety Consulting professionals can assist you with developing prevention programs, training your employees, or by providing an on-site Pandemic Safety Officer/Social Distancing Officer. Contact Kelly Kramer, CECD, HEM, at 800.738.8395 to schedule a consultation.

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Safety training and consulting are only some of RETTEW’s 600+ services. Our safety team works hand in hand with engineers, scientists, project managers, and other technical experts at places such as manufacturing facilities, drill pads, and commercial construction sites. We are well respected in many industries and known for ensuring workers and equipment remain safe, which keeps your projects on track and your bottom line growing.