With the summer season here, a federal agency is urging employers to take steps to prevent heat-related illnesses and deaths.
Approximately 423 deaths from exposure to environmental heat were reported during a study period from 1992 to 2006. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health says heat-related deaths and illnesses are preventable and employers should have a plan in place.
Workers in construction, agriculture, logging, firefighting, and other industries are especially prone to heat-related risks. The two forms of heat stress are internal metabolic -- heat generated by exertion and environmental heat arising from working conditions.
Acclimating workers to local conditions is especially important. NIOSH says workers new to a work site or those returning after four or more days away "should gradually increase their work load and heat exposure over a week."
"Heat related illnesses occur when heat exposure or physical exertion increases to the point at which the body's attempts to cool itself are no longer effective," according to a NIOSH document. "Heat related illnesses range from minor heat rash to serious heat stroke. The different forms of heat related illness -- heat rash, heat cramps, heat syncope, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke -- increase in severity as heat strain increases. This allows for a quick, deadly progression from heat exhaustion to heat stroke."
Workers should be instructed to eat during lunch and other rest breaks because food helps replace lost electrolytes. Also, they should wear light-colored, loose fitting, breathable clothing and a wide-brimmed hat when possible.
NIOSH suggests these prevention methods:
- Train supervisors and workers to prevent, recognize, and treat heat-related illness.
- Implement a heat acclimatization program for workers.
- Provide for and encourage proper hydration with proper amounts and types of fluids.
- Establish work/rest schedules appropriate for the current heat stress conditions.
- Ensure access to shade or cool areas.
- Monitor workers during hot conditions.
- Evaluate work practices continually to reduce exertion and environmental heat stress.
Read more at the WorkersComp Forum homepage.
July 8, 2013
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