We are in the middle of summer, and heat stress in the workplace affects too many workers every year in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, between 1992 and 2016, 783 workers died and more than 69,000 workers suffered serious injuries due to heat exposure on the job, which this number is challenged by labor advocates who say numbers are much higher because of under-reporting or not being classified as a work-related illness or death.
In our last blog, we covered all the terms associated with heat stress and its subsequent illnesses, but to recap - heat stress is a series of conditions where the body is under stress from overheating. Symptoms can range from profuse sweating to dizziness, cessation of sweating, and eventually collapse. Of course, high temperatures increase heat stress, but also increased relative humidity, decreased air movement, or lack of shading from direct heat can all contribute to heat stress.
Supervisor’s Role in Preventing Heat Stress
• Allow time for employees to adjust to hot jobs when possible (heat tolerance), which can take 2-3 weeks for an employee to become acclimated to the hot environment
• When possible, adjust the work schedule with heavier work assigned on cooler days or during the cooler part of the day
• On hot days, reduce the workload – and increase the use of equipment to reduce physical labor
• Establish a schedule for work and rest periods during hot days
• Train workers to recognize signs and symptoms of heat stress illnesses and be prepared to give first aid, if necessary
• Avoid placing "high risk" employees in hot work environments for extended time periods (older, overweight, heart disease, high blood pressure, take medication that may be affected by extreme heat)
• Provide auxiliary body cooling and protective clothing
Worker’s Role in Preventing Heat Stress
• Learn to recognize the symptoms of heat stress – and take adequate rest periods (in shade or cooler environment)
• Use adequate fans for ventilation and cooling, especially when wearing personal protective equipment (PPE)
• Wear light-colored, loose clothing (unless working around equipment with moving parts).
• Keep shaded from direct heat whenever possible - wear a hat in direct sunshine, find a shaded area when on breaks, etc.
• Drink plenty of water – the body requires more water than usual in hot environments