Winter has finally released its grip and summer is just around the corner with warm weather and that beautiful Colorado sunshine. As temperatures rise, so does the workforce, ready to get things done while the weather permits. Whether that task is construction, road maintenance, landscaping or one of the many other professions involving outdoor work environments, there is one common safety threat associated with them all: heat illness.
Working outdoors in the sun puts employees at a higher risk of experiencing heat-related illnesses, such as heat rash, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and worst of all, heat stroke. Along with direct sun exposure, some other factors that increase the risk of heat illness to employees include:
- High temperature and humidity
- Heavy physical labor
- Little or no air movement
- Low fluid intake
- Wearing heavy clothing or personal protective equipment
- Poor physical condition
- Health complications
- Some medications, including those treating low blood pressure or allergies
- Recent exposure to hot working conditions
- Alcohol consumption
Along with identifying risk factors, being able to recognize some of the symptoms of heat illness in yourself and others is important in preventing serious heat-related health problems or even death. Some symptoms of heat illness include confusion, headache, dizziness, nausea and elevated body temperature.
If you recognize any of these symptoms, take action immediately. Heat stroke is a life threatening condition and requires immediate medical attention. At the very least the employee should be removed from sun exposure and placed in a cool/shaded area, be given cold water to drink, have their unnecessary clothing removed and be accompanied by another person until medical personnel arrives or their symptoms diminish.
As an employer, taking steps to prevent heat illness is the best way to ensure healthy employees and efficient work in the summer heat. Suggestions for preventing heat illness include:
- Train employees and supervisors on the risk factors for heat illness and how to combat them
- Train employees on how to recognize symptoms of heat illness in themselves and others
- Provide plenty of cool drinking water to employees in a convenient spot that is close to the work area and encourage them to drink before they’re thirsty
- Schedule frequent breaks out of the sun or in air-conditioned areas and remind employees to drink plenty of water
- Ensure that employees are eating regular meals or snacks to replenish their electrolytes
- Provide shade on extra hot days, if possible
- Set up a buddy system
- For employees new to the job or whom have been away for over a week, gradually increase the level of physical labor or provide more frequent rest and water breaks
For more details on sun and heat safety, check out some of the resources we offer or talk with one of our safety consultants at firstname.lastname@example.org.