Heat-related injuries and emergencies can occur suddenly and frequently. A study published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine in 2018 analyzed heat-related illnesses among construction workers in the United States between 1992 and 2016. The study found that the construction industry had the highest number of heat-related fatalities compared to other industries during that period. These incidents generally fall into three main categories:
- Heat Cramps: These are caused by dehydration and electrolyte imbalances due to excessive sweating.
- Heat Exhaustion: This is usually a result of prolonged exposure to high temperatures and inadequate fluid intake, leading to dehydration.
- Heat Stroke: Heat stroke occurs when the body’s temperature regulation system fails completely, and the core body temperature rises to a dangerous level. This is often a progression from untreated or severe heat exhaustion.
Causes of heat illness include prolonged exposure to high temperatures, particularly when coupled with high humidity. Symptoms may include headaches, dizziness, muscle cramps, confusion, excessive sweating, and/or the absence of sweating. If left untreated, any of these illnesses could escalate into a life-threatening condition.
If you notice any of the above symptoms in any member of your workforce, there are several steps you can take to address the situation:
- Remove the individual from the heat and instruct them to lie down.
- Apply cool compresses to help lower body temperature.
- Elevate their feet.
- Encourage them to drink water or electrolyte containing fluids.
- Use a fan to circulate cold air.
- Seek medical assistance if symptoms persist.
In addition, it is crucial to implement preventive measures on our jobsites to minimize the risk of heat-related incidents. Here are some steps that can help mitigate the risk of heat-related illnesses:
- Education of Your Workforce: Provide comprehensive training to workers about heat-related illnesses, their symptoms, and preventive measures. This training should cover the importance of hydration, recognizing signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke, and knowing when to seek medical help.
- Implement a Heat Safety Program: Develop and implement a heat safety program specifically tailored to your worksite. This program should outline the procedures and protocols to prevent heat-related illnesses. Include guidelines for rest breaks, hydration, work rotation, and protective equipment.
- Monitor Weather Conditions & Schedule Work Wisely: Stay updated on local weather conditions, especially temperature and humidity levels. Plan work activities to minimize exposure to peak heat hours & whenever possible, schedule physically demanding tasks for cooler parts of the day.
- Promote Hydration: Encourage workers to drink water frequently, even when they don’t feel thirsty. Provide access to cool, potable water on the jobsite.
- Use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): When appropriate, provide workers with PPE designed to reduce heat stress, such as breathable clothing, hats, and cooling vests. Ensure that PPE does not hinder heat dissipation and allows for adequate airflow.
- Emergency Response Plan: Develop an emergency response plan specifically addressing heat-related illnesses. Establish clear procedures for handling heat-related emergencies, including first aid, emergency contacts, and transportation to medical facilities.
By prioritizing safety and following these guidelines, we can create a safer working environment and protect our team members from heat-related injuries and emergencies.