Thousands of workers become ill, and dozens die, while working in extreme heat or humid conditions each year, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Heat illnesses can affect anyone, regardless of age, physical condition, or exposure time. In fact, to protect millions of workers, OSHA recently launched a National Emphasis Program whereby the organization will conduct heat-related workplace inspections to help prevent illnesses, injuries, or fatalities.
Overexposure to heat can happen either indoors or outdoors. And, if the conditions are right, it can occur during any season – not just summer heat waves. Still, as temperatures rise throughout summer months, the KBS Health and Safety team believes it is essential for both facility managers and their crew members to follow best safety practices that can prevent heat-related illnesses.
KBS advises facility managers to focus on the OSHA guidelines of providing water, rest, and shade for their crews when they face extreme heat this summer:
Drink water regularly (one cup every 20 minutes, even if you are not thirsty) and avoid alcohol or liquids with substantial amounts of sugar
Ask if you can schedule more labor-intensive tasks for earlier or later in the day to avoid heat
Wear a brimmed hat and loose, lightweight, light-colored clothing
Take breaks more frequently
Spend time in air-conditioned buildings during breaks and after work; encourage co-workers to do the same
Facility managers can also remind team members how to protect themselves from the dangers of outdoor and indoor heat exposure by printing and displaying OSHA’s “Prevent Heat Illness at Work” poster in either English or Spanish.
Facility managers should also understand that, as OSHA notes, 50% to 70% of outdoor fatalities occur in the first few days of working in warm or hot environments. This happens because the body needs to build a heat tolerance (“heat acclimatization”) gradually over time but is often unable to do so. Amid such heat, the human body can lose too much water and salt – usually due to sweating – and become vulnerable to heat exhaustion and/or heat stroke. Common symptoms include:
Headaches, dizziness, or fainting
Fatigue, weakness, or exhaustion
Rapid heart rate or rapid breathing
Body temperature over 103°F
Convulsions or unresponsiveness
What to Do in Case of an Emergency
KBS recommends taking the following actions if you see someone suffering from either heat exhaustion or heat stroke:
Move to a shaded or air-conditioned area
Remove unnecessary clothing
Provide cold water or another cool, non-alcoholic beverage
Apply cold, wet towels or, if needed, have the victim take a cool shower
If necessary, call 911
Working in very warm conditions is sometimes necessary, but it does not have to be harmful. By following the guidelines listed above, facility managers can raise awareness about – and prevent – heat illnesses and injuries among their teams and themselves. That goes a long way toward maintaining safety, which is always priority number one.