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.
To view the full Criteria for a Recommended Standard: Occupational Exposure to Heat and Hot Environments document published by NIOSH, click here.