When working in a factory, outside in the sun, or anywhere else where temperatures can get high, it is important to understand the risks of heat illness, and how to avoid it. Heat illness, or heat exhaustion, is not only dangerous for the person who is experiencing it, but their symptoms could put people in the surrounding area at risk as well.
Symptoms of Heat Illness
Making sure everyone knows and can recognize the symptoms of heat illness can help to catch it early so it can be dealt with properly. The following are common symptoms:
- Nausea or Vomiting
- Muscle Cramps
- Trouble Catching Breath
- Feeling Dizzy, Weak, Faint
- Heavy Sweating
If anyone is showing signs of heat illness, they should be made to go into a cool area until their body temperature normalizes. The sooner someone identifies these symptoms, the more quickly they will be able to recover. While responding to heat illness correctly is important, it is much better to avoid it all together. Training and educating your employees about heat stress is important. The following five tips can help keep employees cool while working in the heat so they will have a reduced risk of heat illness.
Easy Access to Water & Other Fluids
Keeping well-hydrated is absolutely essential when working in the sun or with high temperatures. Drinking enough fluids helps to reduce your core body temperature by adding cool fluid into the body, and by allowing your body to produce sweat, which helps to cool you down.
Employers should offer water bottles or other healthy drinks, ideally kept in ice or refrigerators, to all employees free of charge. The fluids should be kept as close to the area where the work is being done as possible to make it convenient for employees to drink. Reminding employees that it is best to start drinking early so dehydration does not have a chance to occur is also very important.
Cool Areas to Rest
While it is not possible to air condition every work environment, it is almost always possible to keep break rooms or other areas nice and cool. Having a break room that is kept at a cool temperature will allow employees to recover more quickly while on breaks. Keeping these areas significantly cooler than a normal ‘room temperature’ will not only help employees to drop their body temperature, but it will feel very good to anyone who enters.
Even when working in outdoor areas, it is possible to construct a tent or other temporary structure and have a small air conditioner running to keep it cool. While it may not be as efficient as a normal facility, the benefits it will offer to employees who get to enjoy the cooler temperatures will be well worth it in the end.
Allow More Frequent Breaks
Employees are going to require more frequent breaks than normal when working in the sun or heat. While employers never want to have downtime in the workplace, it will be much better in the long run to allow employees frequent breaks to recover from the heat than to have to deal with heat illness or other related problems.
Depending on the type of work being done, and the temperature in the area, having a 10-15-minute break every hour or two can be very helpful. These frequent breaks will help also allow the employees to work at normal speeds while they are working, which would be nearly impossible if they were becoming overheated.
Invest in Sun Protection
Direct exposure to the sun for hours in end can cause serious heat related issues, even if the actual temperature isn’t excessively high. Of course, when the sun is pounding down and the temperature is high, it can become downright dangerous for those working in the area.
Whenever possible, an employer should take steps to protect employees from direct exposure to the sun. How this is done will depend on what the work environment is like, but some options include:
- Sun Blocking Structures – If possible, put up a tent or other material over the area where people are working to block the sun and provide some shade.
- Move Work Environments – Allowing employees to move to a shaded area to avoid direct exposure to the sun can significantly reduce the risk of heat illness.
- Sun Screen – If working in the sun is unavoidable, providing sunscreen can help to avoid the risk of sunburn. Encourage employees to apply it regularly, and to get it on all exposed skin.
- Sun Hats – Wearing hats that will block the sun can do a lot to keep someone cool and avoid sun burn on the head and face.
Adjust Dress Code
It can be helpful to shed some layers of clothing while working in high temperatures. Some employers have dress codes that must be followed, but unless this code is for safety reasons, it can be helpful to allow employees to wear cooler clothing on hot days.
There are some materials that help to keep people cooler when working in hot temperatures. Employers may want to consider purchasing these types of clothes and providing them to their employees to help keep them cool. Of course, all safety hazards need to be considered whenever adjusting a normal dress policy, but if it is an option, it can really go a long way toward keeping everyone cool and safe.
Taking Heat Illness Seriously
While it doesn’t always get the same level of attention as many other workplace hazards, it is important to remember that heat illness can be very serious. Following the above tips, and coming up with others for your facility, will help keep everyone safer while at work. In addition, taking an active approach to keeping employees cool while working in the heat will improve the overall work environment, which can have a very positive impact on worker satisfaction and productivity.
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