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Heat Illness Prevention

Heat Illness Prevention

Heat Illness Prevention

Fall and cooler temperatures seem like they should be around the corner, but much of the U.S. is hot right now, and heat illness prevention remains important. High temperatures and high humidity, hard physical activity, and non-breathable clothing are some of the factors that lead to heat exhaustion and heat stroke, the two main heat illnesses.

Heat exhaustion and heat stroke

Heat exhaustion occurs when the body overheats. Symptoms include cramps, fatigue, excessive sweating, and rapid heartbeat. Heat stroke is the most serious heat illness. The body no longer controls its temperature. Dizziness, dry skin, nausea, and severe headache are some of the symptoms. Heat stroke can lead to coma and death.

What to do for heat exhaustion and heat stroke

Anyone suffering heat exhaustion should leave the hot area and rest, remove unnecessary clothing, apply cool cloths, and sip water. Medical evaluation is recommended. Heat stroke is a medical emergency. Call 911. Move the worker to a cooler area, remove outer clothing, and apply cold water or wet cloths to their skin, or give them an ice bath if possible. Remain with them until medical care arrives. 

Who is at risk?

People who work in hot environments, the elderly, and those with high blood pressure are most at risk of suffering heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

How to prevent heat illness

To prevent heat illness, drink plenty of fluids the day before work and during work. OSHA recommends 8 ounces of water every 15 to 20 minutes, but no more than 1 liter per hour. Take breaks. Take longer and more frequent breaks as the temperature and humidity increase. Use ventilation, air conditioning, and personal cooling devices when possible. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and salt tablets. Get acclimated to the weather. 

State protocols and employer responsibilities

States have protocols to protect workers from heat exhaustion and heat stroke. California OSHA, for example, requires 2 weeks of acclimatization for workers to get used to working in hot weather.

Under OSHA, employers are responsible for protecting workers from heat-related illnesses. Employers should provide water, rest, and shaded areas. Employers should train workers on preventing and recognizing heat illnesses and allow workers to build a tolerance for working in the heat. And employers should monitor employees for signs of heat illness.

To learn more about heat illness prevention, click here to visit OSHA's Heat Illness Prevention site.

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