Warmer weather is Mother Nature’s way of helping us to forget the cold and unpleasant weather of the winter. Outdoor workers are at risk of heat related concerns if they aren’t paying close attention to how to keep cool. OSHA has a heat index App that can be downloaded to any smartphone that provides information about current temperatures and calculates the humidity in the air. If you begin to experience symptoms of heat stress, it’s generally due to dehydration. If you are dehydrated you may feel irritable, nauseous or vomit, have muscle cramps, feel chills or heat on your head or neck. If your symptoms have increased to experiencing heat exhaustion, you will have the same symptoms of dehydration but also add a decrease in muscle coordination and dry mouth. Heat Stroke is the most serious of the conditions and could lead to loss of balance/muscle function, elevated body temperature, and seizures.
Following a work/rest schedule or providing shaded areas during outdoor tasks can alleviate heat related illness. Resting could mean training or even paperwork in an air-conditioned area or under a tree. If you are required to wear personal protective equipment try to choose fabrics that are temperature adaptable and light in clothing. If you are unable to wear lighter clothes, then you should take periods of time during the day where you can disrobe and allow your body to breathe. If you are sweating while working in warmer areas, consider this your body’s radiator. The amount you will sweat is determined by a few factors: your fitness level, the heat index, your level of intensity, and the clothing you are wearing. Some workers can lose up to 2 gallons of sweat during their work shift. Staying hydrated is key to keeping your body in good working order, if you are incredibly thirsty while the temperature is elevated it is better to drink a cool drink (not ice cold) or if you are somewhat dehydrated drink something with electrolytes. Workers should track their liquid intake to safeguard against becoming dehydrated.
Supervisors should have a specific plan for days where the temperature is elevated much like they would have a “snow plan.” In the plan it should be determined how to identify real-time access to weather advisories and forecast information and modify work flow and schedules. Access to water and electrolyte added beverages should be readily available to workers when working in this condition. Adjusting work and rest periods should be based on rising temperatures, increases in humidity, stronger sun exposure, lack of air movement, and heavy ppe. Providing employee training to identify heat related illnesses should also be part of the plan. Supervisors can elect additional enforcers on site to assist with follow through on the work/rest plan.
If the best laid plans fail and someone on your site develops a heat related illness you should follow this protocol: