Each year, as the summer months begin to approach and temperatures slowly begin to creep higher and higher, there never seems to be any shortage of news segments or articles reinforcing the dangers associated with exposure to extreme heat. Sports coaches are often encouraged to hold practices on days with low humidity while keeping a watchful eye on their players. Drivers are reminded to be attentive and refrain from leaving any passengers or pets in their hot cars. Individuals at high-risk, such as the elderly and ill, are asked to be extremely cautious, prompted to limit all unnecessary activity, and take advantage of their air conditioners.
Often not as publicized, however, are the particular dangers unique to a certain extensive group of people— the men and women to which extreme heat exposure (as well as exposure to all other elements) is unavoidable because of their job.
This is called occupational exposure to heat, and believe it or not, there is a substantial amount of information available not only about how to limit the danger it presents but prevent it altogether.
Though the illnesses and complications that accompany exposure to extreme heat are entirely preventable, heat is still responsible for the highest number of weather-related deaths in the United States every year. Over 600 people succumb to heat-related illnesses and injuries annually, and the actual number is estimated to be more than double that when heat as a contributing factor to death caused by a pre-existing illness is considered.
So what exactly does that mean for people exposed to heat on the job site? The unfortunate truth is that especially considering neither hospitals nor health service providers are required to disclose heat-related illnesses to public health agencies, many statistics are still unknown— which is all the more reason to prepare as best as possible.
Keep Cool on the Job Site with These 6 Tips (and Learn About Why You Should)
HYDRATE –There’s a reason we are told to drink plenty of water when the going gets hot. Our bodies use water in all of our cells, organs, and tissues in order to keep our internal temperature regulated and ensure we maintain the ability to function. As a result, a lack of water can result in severe complications. It’s suggested that workers doing regular activity in hot situations drink 8 oz. of water every 15-20 minutes. For prolonged or excessive activity, sports drinks are encouraged in order to replace lost electrolytes.
WEAR REFLECTIVE AND HEAT-ABSORBING CLOTHING – All clothing interferes with heat loss from the skin, so it’s important to be wise about clothing choices in extreme heat. Thin, breathable clothing that reflects the sun’s rays like hi-vis workwear and clothing that is treated with a cooling surface or can be altered (like dipped in water, for example) to stimulate cooling is recommended.
ACCLIMATE – Gradually and carefully exposing yourself to heat can tremendously increase your ability to tolerate it. Through an acclimatization process, your body can (among many other things) actually improve its ability to efficiently cool itself down through natural processes, like sweating.
GET SOME AIR – Airflow causes evaporative heat loss to increase, meaning you can cool down at a faster rate. Make sure your employer is outfitting your workspace with airflow however and wherever is safely possible.
TAKE A BREAK (AND THEN ANOTHER) – It is as important to keep cool as it is to not over-exert yourself when working in severe heat, especially if you suffer from any illnesses or ailments. Frequent rest breaks give your body a chance to recover from extra heat and are encouraged by the CDC.
BE AWARE – Remember: Heat exhaustion, heat stress, heatstroke, and several other heart-related complications can be prevented. One of the most important things you can do to prepare is to be aware – knowledge of prevention techniques will not only help you but might just help others as well.
To view the full Criteria for a Recommended Standard: Occupational Exposure to Heat and Hot Environments document published by NIOSH, click here.
For a helpful (and printable) infographic on protecting workers from heat stress, click here. Sources: CDC, EPA