Heat Illnesses and How to Protect Employees

While it’s best not to work outside in high temperatures, the nature of certain jobs—like construction or landscaping—sometimes makes it unavoidable. When this happens, workers’ body temperatures can rise to dangerously high levels and put them at risk of experiencing serious heat illnesses.

There are a variety of heat illnesses that vary in symptoms and severity. The following are common heat illnesses to be aware of:

Heat Cramps

Heat cramps are caused by heavy sweating, especially when water is not replaced quickly enough. Frequently, symptoms do not occur until after work, at night or when relaxing. Although heat cramps can be quite painful, they usually don't result in permanent damage.

Heat Exhaustion

In heat exhaustion, surface blood vessels and capillaries—which are meant to enlarge to cool the blood—collapse from loss of body fluids and necessary minerals. Common symptoms of heat exhaustion include headaches, heavy sweating, intense thirst, dizziness, fatigue, loss of coordination and impaired judgment.

Heat Stroke

Heat Stroke is a life-threatening illness with a high death rate. It occurs when the body has depleted its supply of water and salt, and the individual’s core body temperature rises to deadly levels. Advanced symptoms may include seizures, convulsions, collapse, loss of consciousness and a body temperature over 42° C.

In order to protect workers, consider implementing the following workplace controls:

  •  Automate or mechanize certain processes to reduce a worker’s exposure to heat.
  • Reduce radiant heat by covering or insulating hot surfaces.
  • Increase ventilation or provide air conditioning to remove hot air.
  • Ensure workers are supervised at all times.
  • Allow employees to work slower during the hottest periods of the day.
  • Ensure that adequate water is available at the beginning of each shift and throughout the workday.

In addition to the above, employers should provide adequate training on heat illnesses. This training should detail how to recognize heat illnesses and perform emergency response procedures.

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