As we transition to warmer temperatures, it’s important to revisit your workplace’s Heat Stress Prevention Program to ensure your employees are equipped to combat heat-related illnesses. Heat is the number one cause of weather-related fatalities in the United States despite the fact that most heat-related deaths are preventable.
Average high temperatures have seen a steady increase across the country over the past couple of decades. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) anticipates that average temperatures will continue to increase, and heat waves will become more frequent and impactful. This prediction should encourage all businesses to look at how their employees are exposed to high temperatures, and what they can do to accommodate.
Businesses with employees who perform work in moderate to high temperatures or humid conditions, especially where increased heart rate and perspiration are concerned, must be given the necessary tools to recognize, understand, and prevent heat stress illnesses.
Essentially, heat stress prevention comes down to workplace design, employee training, and effective work procedures. Design and procedures will vary greatly depending on geographical location and the type of work being performed. Businesses should keep in mind that heat stress can occur regardless of the time of year, in both outdoor and indoor conditions. Required personal protective equipment (PPE) can also have a significant impact on the body’s ability to expel heat. Workers involved with hazardous waste operations or asbestos removal, for example, are often required to wear impermeable protective equipment which can trap heat close to the body. A thorough risk assessment will help businesses identify risk elements such as these.
A strong working knowledge of how the body regulates heat, and how personal factors can affect that regulation, is an extremely valuable tool in prevention. The human body needs to maintain a core temperature between 96.8 (36) and 100.4 (38) degrees Fahrenheit to function at peak performance. Weather conditions, manual labor, and personal factors can cause the core temperature to increase, which can lead to the development of a series of heat-related illnesses.
To regulate internal temperature, the body uses two basic mechanisms. The first is to increase the heart rate which assists in moving blood and heat away from vital organs to the skin. The second is perspiration, during which the body expels heat in moisture through the pores, which then evaporates and carries heat away in the process. Personal factors, such as acclimatization, caffeine and alcohol consumption, hydration replenishment, general health, age, and certain prescription medications can affect how well these mechanisms work and should be taken into consideration before performing work in high temperatures. Perspiration is the more effective of the two mechanisms, which means that proper hydration to replenish fluids lost as sweat is absolutely essential.
There are four common disorders which surface as a result of heat stress, ranging from mild discomfort to life-threatening conditions:
Heat rash is the most common ailment which occurs while working in the heat. It is also called “prickly heat.” Symptoms include red, blotchy, itchy skin, particularly in areas of the body with high perspiration, and a prickling sensation. Rashes which aren’t cleaned thoroughly and frequently may become infected. Moving to a cool environment, cleaning the affected area with cool water, and complete drying are often effective treatments.
Heat cramps occur as a result of salt being lost through perspiration. These are painful muscle spasms causing lumps in the affected muscles, usually the back, legs, and arms. The pain can be severe enough to greatly inhibit movement. Workers should cease activities to tend to cramps as soon as they feel them. Stretching and massaging the affected muscle as well as replacing salt by drinking electrolyte replacement fluids are useful techniques in tending to heat cramps.
Heat exhaustion is a dangerous result of heat stress which can lead to a heat stroke if not treated promptly with first aid. Heat exhaustion happens when the body is so overexerted that it cannot supply blood simultaneously to vital organs and the skin for temperature regulations. Inflicted workers may experience weakness, headache, breathlessness, nausea, vomiting, faintness, or loss of consciousness. Call 911 and remove workers exhibiting these symptoms to a cool place and give them water to drink. Remove any clothing that isn’t necessary and loosen other clothing. Shower or sponge them down with cool water. It will take at least 30 minutes for the body to cool down after experiencing heat exhaustion.
Heat stroke is a disorder which requires immediate medical attention, and can lead rapidly to fatality if not treated quickly. A person experiencing a heat stroke may experience confusion, hot, dry skin, high body temperatures, lack of sweating, irrational behavior, convulsions, and/or a loss of consciousness. Call 911 right away and take the victim to a cool area to immerse or shower them with cool water. Wrap them in wet sheets and fan them until you can transport them to a hospital or an ambulance arrives.
Knowledge can mean the difference between life and death during a critical victimization of heat stress. Workers should understand the nature and symptoms of heat-related illnesses both in a sense of recognizing them in themselves, and when a coworker is suffering. In many cases, a quick and efficient response can save a heat stress victim from numerous long-term effects that would have otherwise occurred had symptoms gone untreated. Proper training and a strong Heat Stress Prevention Program will help protect worker health year round.
Understanding the potential harm caused by working in high temperatures is only the first step when it comes to protecting your employees. The next and most vital step is developing a thorough Heat Stress Prevention Program for your company. This starts with inspecting your workplace with a focus on location, time of year, geography, and risk factors and then building a comprehensive program around the results.
Program development is generally broken down into four basic focus points, which are then expanded based on your workplace’s unique characteristics and the work being performed:
Evaluate a particular date to determine whether heat stress is an issue by looking at temperature and humidity levels. Use this information to implement the appropriate controls and procedures to reduce risks.
Define the essential, company-wide provisions to be implemented in order to reduce the risks of heat-related illnesses, and when they will be implemented. Some examples of provisions can include acclimatization programs, a work/rest rotation schedule, or providing shaded, cool areas for rest.
Provide plenty of cool, potable water for all employees on site, and encourage them to drink it.
Train workers on how to recognize the symptoms of heat-related illnesses, and what steps should be taken to prevent them. Workers should also know what to do in the event they or another worker are showing signs of heat stress.
Safety Services Company is comprised of passionate safety experts who can assist you in creating an effective Heat Stress Prevention Program from the ground up. For more information, visit us at www.safetyservicescompany.com.
It’s a given that sunscreen is a good idea when working outside, but little thought is given to how the sun damages skin and other important protections that can be put into practice to help minimize risk.
The two spectrums of solar radiation that affect us are ultraviolet B (UVB) and ultraviolet A (UVA). And while UVB rays can cause sunburns and cancer, UVA rays also contribute to cancer risk, even without any real indication of exposure. Also, if you count on sunscreen for protection, unless the sunscreen says “full spectrum” then there is no guarantee it adequately protects against the UVA rays.
Because of their extra energy, UVA rays reflect off the following surfaces: water, concrete, asphalt, and snow. The rays can also penetrate glass, windshields, and clothing to some extent.
Beyond a temporary burn, the results of overexposure are not always immediately apparent. Still, the effects of skin cancer can be seen in the growing costs of skin cancer diagnosis and treatment. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that the annual cost of treatment increased 126 percent between two five-year periods. From 2002 – 2006, $3.6 billion were spent on treatment, but from 2007 – 2011, treatment costs reached approximately $8.1 billion.
In light of the risks, proper precautions for anyone working outside should include:
Wearing a brimmed hat
Wear clothes with a rated Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF)
Wear UV400 sunglasses
Apply a broad spectrum sunscreen every two hours
One note about the sunglasses — polarized glasses only block the glare. To gain UV protection, make sure they meet ANSI Z80.3 blocking requirements and look for lenses labeled with “UV 400 protection”. With those measures, they can protect against burns around the eye and even cataracts.
The UPF rating in clothing illustrates how much radiation is being blocked—simply the result of the tightness of the fabric’s weave. A tighter woven shirt absorbs more radiation.
The American Cancer Society has more sun safety information such as an image gallery to help identify potential skin cancer. Also the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) offers guidance on its latest 2012 sunscreen labeling information to understand what to look for when buying sunscreen.
Earlier this year California rolled out a major update to the country’s flagship heat stress program; effective May 1, 2015, this FAQ can help explain how it will be enforced.
The rationale behind the update is this: mild heat illness can quickly become severe, leading to new elements in training, shade, water, preventative breaks, first aid response, acclimatization, and emergency procedures.
There must be a written plan to establish, implement and maintain heat illness protection. It must be in in English and any other language understood by most employees, such as Spanish. Make this plan a chapter of your Injury Illness Prevention Plan (IIPP) and make it easily accessible on the worksite. This provision includes tablet and smart phone viewing of the Heat Illness Plan.
The most obvious change to the requirement is the temperature; mandatory shade is now 80°F, a five- degree drop. Keep in mind, this is the worksite temperature. Be aware of the predicted temperature but also check the temperature at work.
Furthermore, shade must be easy to reach and use. Don’t designate shaded areas where employees have to cross traffic or waterways; sit next to portable toilets, on wet ground; or too close to bushes or branches.
“Cool down” rests are now preventative, as employers need to encourage breaks to prevent overheating. Monitor and ask employees if they have any heat illness symptoms. Instruct them to stay in the shade until symptoms disappear and immediately provide first aid and call 9-1-1.
Potable water now has to be refreshing, fresh, pure, and cooler than the surrounding temperature. Check for discouraging odors, use clean containers, and use approved and tested sources (municipal water is good, untested wells are not). If using hoses and other connections, make sure the manufacturer’s label indicates approved use.
Cal/OSHA warns that inspectors will question the placement of the water container on the worksite. Water containers are smaller than shade structures and can be placed closer than shade. Consider each issue separately: shade and water.
Changes to high heat procedures – when the temperature reaches 95°F – include observation techniques that designate who calls 9-1-1, pre-shift meetings, and preventative cool-down rest periods.
While the previous regulation required that employees be observed for heat illness symptoms, four methods are described. The first allows for the supervisor to directly observe small groups of 20 workers or less. For more employees, a buddy system can be established of employees responsible for observing each other. For lone workers, the employer may regularly and frequently check in with them by phone or radio. The fourth, “other effective means of observation,” makes the employer explain the method in use and defend how it is effective.
While all employees can call 9-1-1, the new regulation wants employers to designate a small number of employees per crew to be responsible for calling emergency medical services when necessary.
Pre-shift meetings with supervisors and employees are included in the high heat procedures. These can be merely brief reminders on heat stress topics.
A 10-minute, preventative, cool-down rest period is mandatory every two hours. These breaks can coincide with other scheduled breaks without having to be taken separately. Just be prepared to keep up these breaks to properly coincide with any overtime work, take a 10-minute break at the end of the eighth hour and another break at the end of the tenth hour.
If emergency response procedures aren’t already established in your IIPP, they are now a specific requirement of the heat stress program.
For instance, the plan must take into account any remote locations and their challenges: difficult access for emergency responders, needed steps to transport employees safely to the emergency responders, and ensuring workers have a map or detailed directions for the worksite location.
Acclimatization must be part of the plan for new employees in their first 14 days, and all employees during a heat wave. This means taking extra steps to closely observe employees and lessen employee workload.
All of these heat stress components rely heavily on everyone knowing the symptoms and basic first aid responses. With these regulatory updates, it’s now clear that employees need to know about employer responsibilities: providing water, shade, cool-down rests, and first aid access. Employers have to teach workers their rights and why acclimatization is important.
As we move through spring and temperatures start to rise in most of North America, it’s time to start thinking about avoiding heat stress. Although some parts of the country believe that the cold weather will never end, I assure you it will, and when it does the heat will be on.
Heat-related illnesses range from a mild heat rash and cramping all the way to heat stroke, which is a life-threatening condition. Now is the time to prepare for the heat that you’ve been hoping for—but will be cursing later on. If you or your employees will be working outdoors or in hot environments, ask yourself the following questions:
Have I planned for a modified work schedule to reduce heat exposure?
Do I have a sufficient supply of potable water containers and shade covers?
Are they in good condition?
Do I need circulating or exhaust fans?
Do they need maintenance or repair?
Would adding a misting system improve the work environment?
Although the costs involved with addressing heat-stress issues can seem like a financial burden, the costs are much greater for the medical treatment for injured workers, potential government fines, and even the cost of replacing an experienced productive worker who leaves the company to take a job with better working conditions.
Employees will have a much-improved attitude if they feel that management cares about their health and safety, and is working to make them feel more comfortable and protected. These things can be as valuable as a pay raise to an employee.
Another factor to consider is productivity. Are employees as efficient when their glasses are fogging up or sweat is dripping off their noses? Certainly not. Fewer water and rest breaks might be required if the workplace was 10-12 degrees cooler, which improves productivity. How many errors are made due to heat stress, and how many shortcuts are taken that can lead to unnecessary rework, customer complaints, or worse yet, accident or injury? The numbers could be more significant than you think.
The impact of heat stress varies from worker to worker depending on the level of exertion, physical factors, and climate conditions. A wide variety of PPE and environmental controls are available, and it’s up to management to determine the best way to reduce the chances of heat-stress-related incidents, and to provide a cooler atmosphere. The workers will certainly appreciate it too.
With many people struggling to cope with record high temperatures across the nation, the NHTSA is urging drivers to pay specific attention to tire pressure and tread-wear. The organization, which works to reduce/prevent accidents and injuries on America’s highway’s, recommends the following precautions:
Follow the recommended tire pressure in pounds-per-square-inch (PSI) for your vehicle. This information is found on the vehicle placard typically inside the car door and in the vehicle owner’s manual.
Purchase a tire pressure gauge to keep in your vehicle. Tires lose one PSI every month, so it is important to check your tires monthly to ensure proper inflation.
If your vehicle is equipped with tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS), know where the TPMS warning is on your dashboard, and take action if you receive a warning.
Check your vehicle owner’s manual for specific recommendations for tire replacement for your vehicle. Some vehicle manufacturers recommend six years, some tire manufacturers recommend 10 years as the maximum service life for tires, including spares.
Monitor the tread on all tires on your vehicle. Tires with tread worn down to 2/32 of an inch or less are not safe and should be replaced.
Look for treadwear indicators – raised sections spaced throughout the bottom of the tread grooves. When they appear it is time to replace your tires.
Try the penny test. Place a penny in the tread of your tires with Lincoln’s head upside down and facing you. If you can see the top of Lincoln’s head, your tire has less than 2/32 of an inches of tread and you are ready for new tires.
Remember that seat belts are your best defense in a crash.
As temperatures across the nation continue to climb, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released some important advice; stay cool, well hydrated and most importantly, well informed.
In a study published June 6th in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the CDC explained that nearly 650 deaths each year from extreme heat were preventable. Overall, from 1999-2009, there were 7,233 heat-related deaths, according to the report.
More people die each year from heat stress than tornadoes, hurricanes, floods and lightning combined, according to Dr. Robin Ikeda, acting director of the National Center for Environmental Health and Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
According to the study a two-week long 100-plus temperature heat wave in 2012 was responsible for the loss of 32 lives.
“Heat-related illnesses and deaths are preventable. Taking steps to stay cool, hydrated and informed in extreme temperatures can prevent serious health effects like heat exhaustion and heat stroke,” said lead author Ethel Taylor, a researcher who works with the CDC.
While all are susceptible to the dangers of heat stress, the elderly, children, the poor or those with chronic medical conditions, such as hypertension, kidney disease, asthma and diabetes have a higher risk level.
In 2012 half of victims of heat stress were aged 65 and older, and 72 percent were male.
The On-site Implementation and Audit Team were a great help building a robust safety program, walking us through implementation and facilitating the audit.
- D&B Rental Services
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