Protecting Employees from the Heat

July 26, 2019

Risk Management News

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Be aware of the hot hours! Between noon and 6 p.m. is the hottest time of the day. Here are some tips for staying safe.

  • If possible, workers should plan to be inside air-conditioned-equipped equipment or truck cabs during this time.
  • The ability to choose alternative work schedules during summer months may make it easier to avoid hot hours.
  • If hot hours cannot be avoided, workers should be provided with plenty of water, frequent breaks and shaded rest areas when possible.

Choose uniforms that are cool. Heat appropriate clothing can go a long way in keeping employees safe and comfortable.

  • Wear clothing that provides adequate coverage. A lightweight long-sleeve shirt, sun sleeves and a neck gaiter can provide effective protection.
  • Wear a hat that provides good face protection. A 360-degree brim is better than a ball cap.
  • Wear a bandana or sun-protective neck gaiter. Wet bandanas cool extremely well!
  • Wear light colors that reflect the sun’s rays rather than absorb them (as dark colors can).
  • Wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing that breathes well. It will help your body regulate temperature. Work-specific evaporative clothing is good, but fishing clothing works well too.
  • Choose UPF-rated clothing. All clothing blocks the sun’s rays to a certain extent, but clothing that has an Ultraviolet Protective Factor (UPF) rating is guaranteed to provide protection.

Provide fuel for the sweat. Dehydration is the beginning of any heat-related illness. Keeping hydrated reduces the risk of heat related illness.

  • Carry a hydration pack. Having a sip tube always at the ready will make you more likely to hydrate frequently.
  • Bring a squirt bottle. Hydration packs can be convenient but you cannot splash water on your head with a tube.
  • Sports drinks are good to consume when working in hot weather but water is always the best choice to stay hydrated.
  • Consider freezing water bottles before shifts. The thawing process will ensure employees do not drink too much water, and water will be cool when consumed.
  • Water containers should be washed daily with anti-bacterial dishwashing soap to eliminate disease-causing bacteria; avoid sharing cups and water bottles when possible.

Take time to acclimate. Employees need to ease into working in hot conditions. This can take days or weeks. When summer months arrive, slowly expose employees to the heat over two weeks.  Additionally, start employees’ outdoor work in the morning so they may naturally acclimate to the rising temperatures.

Heat Illnesses
As county road operations ramp up in the summer months, so does the Texas heat! Summers in our great state can be dangerous if we do not take the necessary steps to stay cool. The Texas Association of Counties Risk Management Pool (TAC RMP) recommends that all outdoor employees receive information on heat-related illnesses.

In addition, counties may consider providing employees with training to recognize the signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses and how to respond when a medical emergency occurs. TAC RMP members have access to on-site training on this topic and others to meet their needs. TAC RMP members should contact their Risk Control Consultant for more information.

Employees can suffer from a wide variety of heat-related ailments and illnesses. The most common of these include:

Sunburn – Sun protection (UPF-rated) clothing can help, but employees should also utilize sunscreen to prevent burns to maximize protection and cover exposed areas.

  • For more than two hours of direct sun exposure, choose sunscreen that is SPF 30 or higher.
  • Apply sunscreen liberally 15 minutes before sun exposure.
  • Reapply after 45 minutes of sweating or at least every two hours.

Dehydration – It is important for employees to drink plenty of water in hot weather to prevent dehydration. Dehydration can leave a person feeling lousy and possibly contribute to other heat-related illnesses, such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

  • The average person should have one liter of water per two hours of activity.
  • Be careful of overhydration, which has the same symptoms as dehydration and can lead to death.  Have a few sips of water every 15 minutes and try not to drink more than you sweat.
  • Occasionally eating salty snacks or an electrolyte sports drink can help with both dehydration and overhydration.

Heat Exhaustion – This is the body’s inability to cope with the stress of heat. It can occur after lengthy exposure to high temperatures and often occurs in conjunction with dehydration. Heat exhaustion can occur over one or multiple days. Symptoms include:

  • Headache, dizziness, or fainting
  • Heavy sweating and rapid pulse
  • Irritability or confusion
  • Thirst, nausea or vomiting

Heat Stroke – Heat stroke occurs when your body literally overheats. It is a serious medical condition, which requires immediate medical attention. Should any employee display physical symptoms of heat exhaustion combined with a change in mental status, he or she may have heat stroke. Pay particular attention to these signs:

  • Throbbing headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Confusion, disorientation and dizziness
  • Anxiety
  • Body temperature of 104-degrees-Fahrenheit or higher (if you have a way of measuring body temperature)

Treating Heat Illnesses
Although there are many different heat-related illnesses. They often have the same emergency treatment procedures.

  • Get out of the heat. Look for a shady spot and lay down and rest. Remove any excess clothing. Though retreating to air conditioning is tempting, do not cool down too quickly.
  • Rehydrate. Drink plenty of cool water or fluids that contain electrolytes. Avoid drinking very cold water and sugary, caffeinated or alcoholic beverages.
  • Cool off. Splash water on your body. Use wet towels to cool. Ensure there is good ventilation.
  • Drive. If an employee is displaying signs of heat stroke, get them medical attention as soon as possible.