June 2012 - Being Too Hot Can Be Deadly


Being Too Hot Can Be Deadly

Whether you work outdoors or indoors, you and your co-workers may be subjected to the effects of heat. If you have the potential for heat exposure, you should take the necessary precautions to minimize what could be a deadly heat stress situation. You can do this by knowing when heat stress conditions exist, identifying the symptoms of heat stress, and knowing how to react to a heat stress situation.

Heat stress depends on environmental factors, such as temperature, humidity, radiant heat, and air velocity. The onset of heat related illness is dependent on your physical condition and can be accelerated by certain medical conditions. In addition, your level of acclimatization plays a large role in determining your heat stress tolerance.

Heat related illness can be prevented by using engineering controls and sensible work practices. General or local exhaust ventilation systems can be used in areas where sources of high heat loads are generated. Furthermore, workers should be provided with plenty of drinking water and electrolyte solution. Variable work shifts and work-rest periods are also feasible work practices.

The effects of heat stress on workers can range from minor irritation to more serious health problems, including death. Effects of heat stress include skin rash, spasm, syncope (fainting), heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. Heat stroke, for example is the most serious heat illness. When someone experiences heat stroke, he/she stops sweating and his/her body fails to regulate body temperature. Symptoms of heat stroke include: confusion, loss of consciousness, seizures, very high body temperature, and hot, dry skin.

If you identify someone experiencing heat stroke, you should call 911. Anyone experiencing heat stroke should be treated immediately. Heat stroke is a lifethreatening emergency! In the event of a heat stress emergency, make sure the following actions are taken.

1. Ensure someone stays with the worker until help arrives.

2. Move the worker to a shaded, cool area and remove outer clothing.

3. Wet the worker with cool water and circulate the air to speed cooling.

4. Place cold wet cloths or ice all over the body or soak the worker’s clothing with cold water.

Although there is not an OSHA standard in reference to heat stress, employers can be cited under the general duty clause for ignoring heat stress hazards. For more information about heat stress call SCATS at 1.877.4SAFENV to request FREE informational brochures and posters.