DENVER — July 21, 2022 — As triple-digit temperatures and record highs cause discomfort to Coloradans this summer, Colorado’s largest workers’ compensation insurer, Pinnacol Assurance, is issuing guidance from its occupational safety team on how to avoid heat-related illness and intervene if an employee is showing signs of stress. Those who work in construction, road maintenance, landscaping or one of the many other professions involving outdoor work environments can’t avoid the extreme conditions and are particularly at risk.
Pinnacol’s team of work safety consultants also counsels that heat can cause more than discomfort for those who work outside. A new study finds extreme heat can lead to more on-the-job injuries, such as falls and other accidents, because heat makes it difficult for workers to concentrate. The research shows that on days when temperatures top 100 degrees Fahrenheit, injury risk grows by 10% to 15%.
“We see employers tend to focus on recognizing the obvious signs of heat-related illness and taking recommended prevention measures,” said Ryan Kidd, Pinnacol safety services specialist. “Employers should also consider complementing these essential actions with employee situational awareness training. Raising situational awareness and developing in-the-moment critical thinking skills are key to helping combat the added risk associated with extreme heat.”
Risk factors for heat-related illness
Along with direct sun exposure, 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
Being in poor physical condition
Some medications, including those treating low blood pressure or allergies
Signs of heat-related 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. Some symptoms of heat illness are:
Elevated body temperature
Recognizing heat-related illness
Recognizing the symptoms of heat illness in yourself and others could help avoid serious heat-related health problems or even death. If you see such signs, take action immediately.
Heat stroke is a life-threatening condition and requires immediate medical attention. At the very least, workers should know to remove employees from sun exposure and place them in a cool or shaded area; affected workers should be given cool water to drink and should remove any unnecessary clothing; and another person should stay with them until medical personnel arrive or their symptoms diminish.
Preventing heat-related illness
Preventing heat illness is the best way to ensure healthy employees and efficient work in the summer heat. Tips for preventing heat illness include the following:
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
Remind employees to drink plenty of water
Provide cool drinking water in a convenient spot close to employees’ work areas
Encourage employees to drink before becoming thirsty
Schedule frequent breaks out of the sun or in air-conditioned areas
Ensure employees eat regular meals or snacks to replenish their electrolytes
Remind employees to wear sunscreen
Provide shade on extra-hot days, if possible
Set up a buddy system so workers can watch for signs of heat distress in one another
Increase the level of physical labor gradually or provide more frequent rest and water breaks for new employees or those returning from more than a week off.
For more details on sun and heat safety, check out some of the resources we offer or speak with a Pinnacol certified safety consultant.