Five Simple Steps for Preventing Heat-Related Illness

Summer brings longer days and outdoor activities, but it also brings a higher risk that someone on your team may experience a heat-related illness at work. And as summer rapidly approaches, now is the time for auto repair and manufacturing facilities to plan for this risk. It’s a serious issue—in the last three years, OSHA has reported more than 70 heat-related deaths.

Whether working indoors or out, people often underestimate the impact that heat is having on their bodies—sometimes until it’s too late. Hot and humid weather, working in the sun or near heat sources like engines and furnaces, and heavy physical labor are all factors that can lead to problems. The risk is even higher if an individual has high blood pressure, is overweight, or has other medical conditions such as diabetes or heart disease.

It may also not seem obvious, but an individual’s lack of acclimatization to heat can also make a major difference. Hot, humid days at the beginning of summer can create more risk than they do later in the summer. Employees who haven’t worked in a few months may find themselves at higher risk if they come back to performing physical work in the summer heat. And employees who have recently moved to hotter climates are also at a higher risk of heat-related illness.

There are six types of heat-related illness—heat stroke, heat exhaustion, rhabdomyolysis, heat syncope, heat cramps and heat rash. The most common are heat stroke and heat exhaustion and is what we will focus on in this article.

Heat Exhaustion vs. Heat Stroke

Heat exhaustion can be dangerous, but heat stroke is incredibly serious.

Heat exhaustion is the body’s response to an excessive loss of water and salt through sweating. Individuals experiencing heat exhaustion will have symptoms of nausea, dizziness, fatigue and headache. Their skin will often be clammy and moist, and their body temperature can be 101 degrees or higher. In these cases, the individual should be moved to a cooler area and given plenty of water or a drink such as Gatorade. They should rest and let their body cool down and temperature subside. If symptoms do not improve within an hour, seek medical attention.

Heat stroke occurs when the body’s mechanism for controlling its own temperature through sweating fails. In this case, an individual’s body temperature can rapidly rise to above 104 degrees. The initial symptoms are similar to heat exhaustion but can rapidly worsen into confusion, slurred speech, and even loss of consciousness. Because the sweating mechanism is not working, the person may have hot, red, dry or damp skin. Heat stoke is life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention. Call 911 while simultaneously cooling the person down with water and ice if available.

Additional OSHA guidance can be found here.

How to Prevent Heat-Related Illness

Whether your business is auto repair or manufacturing, and whether you’re located in the sunbelt or the rust belt, heat-related illness should not be ignored. Here are five key elements to have in place to minimize your risks from heat-related illness:

  1. Acclimatize Employees Slowly
    Consider using a breaking in schedule for the first two weeks of hot weather to allow your employees to get used to the environment. Do the same with any employee throughout the summer who is not yet acclimatized.
  2. Ensure Water or Hydrating Snacks are Nearby
    People may simply forget to stay hydrated during work in hot weather, but ensuring that water, Gatorade®, or even popsicles are readily available, and reminding your staff to hydrate, is an easy solution.
  3. Be Aware
    Awareness of heat-related illness means that you can watch your team more closely. Pay attention to the National Weather Service’s Heat Index which indicates the level of danger based on the combination of temperature and humidity.
  4. Train Your Team
    Training not only helps individuals recognize their own risk, but it helps them take care of each other more effectively. Ensure your employees know the symptoms and treatments for heat exhaustion, and the dangers of heat stroke.
  5. Have Proper Equipment
    Simple solutions such as cooling fans, evaporative clothing, shade and tents can make a tremendous difference. Also, keep in mind the levels of PPE required for the job, and take this into consideration to determine if work should be rescheduled or more breaks should be added.

The risks from heat-related illness can be very serious, but the good news is that they’re relatively easy to manage—especially with GMG EnviroSafe on your side. We’ll help you evaluate your risks, train your team, and put best practices in place that will help you create an overall safer environment—protecting both your employees and your business.