In this post you’ll learn
- What is heat-related illness
- How heatstroke occurs
- Warning signs of heatstroke
- OSHA Guidelines on how to prevent heatstroke
- OSHA recommended first aid measures of heatstroke
As summer months approach, workers exposed to hot environments can be at risk of heat stress. Extreme heat can lead to occupational diseases and injuries. Heat stress can cause heat stroke, heat exhaustion, muscle spasms, or heat rash. Heat can also cause sweat in the palms, cloudiness of goggles, and dizziness, which can increase the risk of on-the-job injury to workers.
Burns can also occur as a result of accidental contact with hot surfaces or steam when the operator loses concentration due to thermal damage. Examples of remote workers experiencing thermal stress include field workers such as field technicians, excavators, and engineers. Workers at high risk of heat stress include those over the age of 65, who are overweight, have heart disease, high blood pressure, or are taking medications that can cause complications for workers who work in extreme heat.
It is important for workers to avoid heat stress. Workers need to understand what heat stress is, how it affects their health and safety, and how it can be prevented. Fever-related illnesses can be in the form of early signs, such as muscle spasms, or in severe cases indications of heat stroke may appear.
Heatstroke is the most serious heat-related illness. It happens when the body becomes unable to control its own temperature: body temperature rises quickly, sweating fails to happen, and the body’s inability to cool itself becomes the main cause of heatstroke. During heatstroke, body temperature can rise up to 106 degrees F or higher for 10-15 minutes. Heatstroke can cause disability or in severe cases death if no medical care has been provided to the worker within the right time frame.
Signs of Heat Stress
It is important to watch out to the main warning signs of heatstroke, these include:
- High body temperature
- Hot and dry skin – If you can’t cool your body with sweat, symptoms of dry skin start to occur
- As blood pressure drops and the heart tries to maintain proper circulation, both the heart and respiratory rate increase
- Dehydration causing throbbing headache, stomach nausea, and/or vomiting
- Weakness, fainting, or dizziness due to low blood pressure due to dehydration (especially if you take a standing position immediately)
- Muscle cramps
- Dark/Unclear urine (sign of dehydration)
- Confused or Slurred speech
- Light or bluish skin when advanced due to narrowed blood vessels
- Seizures or loss of consciousness
Figure 1 – Heat-related Illness (Ref. https://www.osha.gov/otm)
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have set up clear guidelines for companies to follow in order to reduce the likelihood and severity of heat illness occurrence. These can be found in the OSHA Technical Manual (OTM). The manual highlights that reduced heat stress in the workplace is the most effective strategy to avoid heat-related sickness and death (e.g., increase air movement, reduce temperature, reduce humidity, and protect workers from solar radiation or other radiant heat sources).
Heat Stress Controls
The OSHA have developed some crucial control measures that will help alleviate heat stress:
- Create a comprehensive heat illness prevention plan.
- Educate workers on the dangers of heat stress and how to avoid them.
- Keep plenty of chilled water near the work area for personnel. A minimum of one pint of water each hour is required.
- Work schedules must be adjusted, and regular rest intervals with water breaks should be scheduled in shaded or air-conditioned places.
- Increase workloads gradually and provide more frequent breaks for personnel who are new to the heat or have been absent from work to help them adjust to working in the heat (acclimatization).
- Assign a responsible person to keep an eye on the situation and protect personnel who are susceptible to heat stress.
- Consider wearing cooling protective clothes.
To help enhance protection from heat-related illness, OSHA recommends that workers:
- Know the signs and symptoms of heat sickness, keep a close eye on yourself, and team up with a friend.
- Direct sunlight and other heat sources should be avoided.
- Make sure you’re getting enough water. Drink often and before to becoming thirsty. Drink a glass of water every 15 minutes.
- Consume no alcoholic or caffeine-containing drinks.
- Wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing that is lightweight.
First aid and how to react to early and late signs of heat stress may impact the severity of the illness significantly. Workers should always monitor any signs related to heat stress and act accordingly by hydrating, staying in the shade, taking rest…etc. In the event an employee is already feeling the signs of heatstroke, below are the recommended measures to take once an employee becomes ill from the heat:
- For guidance, consult a supervisor. Call 911 if the supervisor is unreachable.
- Someone should stay with the worker until assistance arrives.
- Transfer the worker to a cooler, more shady location.
- Remove all outerwear.
- Apply ice to the worker after fanning and misting him with water (ice bags or ice towels).
- If possible, provide chilled drinking water.
OSHA continues to update its guidelines and standards to try and reduce heat related incidents. Multiple meetings are held yearly to standardize heat related mitigation measures in various industries, it is believed that OSHA are close to finalize a standard rule on heat related illness and injuries that is expected to reduce the number of incidents.
The short- and long-term health effects of heatstroke can be detrimental. In severe cases, it may cause various disabilities to workers and employees affecting employers productivity levels, health and safety records. Measures to prevent heat-related illness must be clearly understood and trainings should take place in order to educate the workers on how to prevent heat stroke, and to detect heat stress related signs when they start to occur. OSHA is on the verge of issuing a standard which will enforce such measures to be more widely implemented across various industries. Once the standard is rolled out, more employers are expected to adopt the measures outlined in the standard and a reduced rate of heat-related incidents is expected to occur across these industries.
There are many ways to reduce exposure to heat, and every employer should find way to reduce the heat stress on workers. Some of these measures may include reducing the heat produced from the machinery while working on a job. At TFT-Pneumatic we encourage our workers to utilize cold work non-sparking tools which work by chipping off (cold works) the material rather than burning it (hot works), thus reducing the overall time, energy and heat required to complete the job. Checkout the variety of sparkless grinders are available on our Safety Tools Portal.
Interested in Pneumatic Tools and Non-Sparking Tools? Get in touch with us via the Contact Form. We will respond to all inquiries within one business day. We offer rental, purchase, and repair services for our products.