We all know how hot it starts to get this time of year, but we don’t always appreciate how quickly heat-related stress can lead to serious health problems. Heat is one of the leading weather-related killers in the United States. To help call attention to that fact, the National Weather Service sponsors Heat Safety Awareness Day on the last Friday of May just a few weeks ahead of the official beginning of summer.
Heat safety awareness has year-round place in workplace safety plans, but it is especially important during the summer months.
Heat stress related injuries are often the result of the body’s inability to cope with prolonged exposure to extreme heat. It is of particular concern during the summer months, especially for people who work in factories, in construction, or on farms.
People at increased risk of heat stress include those 65 years of age or older, those who are overweight, have heart disease or high blood pressure, or who take medications that can be affected by extreme heat.
Being aware of the health and safety risks posed by exposure to heat in the workplace is a year-round concern, even in workplaces where temperatures can be regulated. In addition to burns from accidental direct contact with steam or hot surfaces, heat can also indirectly lead to other injuries by causing sweaty palms, fogged eyewear, and dizziness.
Preventing heat stress in employees is as important an aspect of safety plan design as any other. Employers need to educate workers on what heat stress is, how it affects their health and safety, and how it can be prevented.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH) offers a number of resources on heat safety at work, from fact sheets and infographics to blog posts and planning documents available at https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/heatstress/.