Heat stress, or heat exhaustion, is unfortunately too common in industries where employees work outside or regularly engage in high levels of physical activity. Heat stress is such a significant issue, especially in construction, landscaping and other industries where the bulk of the work happens outside under the sun, that OSHA requires businesses to provide heat-stress training and mitigation.
This means employers must provide training for employees that warns them of the dangers of heat stress and how to prevent it. The training also educates employees on how to notice the symptoms in themselves and others, so mitigation efforts can be made before the situation becomes serious.
What Is Heat Stress?
Heat stress, or heat exhaustion, can be deadly if it ends in heatstroke — a disorder brought on by exposure to long periods of high heat, often without enough water or while perspiring heavily. Normally, heat exhaustion can happen when temperatures rise into the 90s and higher, and people aren’t prepared for what that level of heat exposure can do to their bodies.
Symptoms may include the following:
Cool skin that may have goosebumps or feel clammy despite the heat.
Faintness or dizziness.
Onset of fatigue or lethargy.
Slow heart rate.
A drop in blood pressure when standing up quickly.
A dull or throbbing headache.
What Is Heat-Stress Training and Mitigation for Employees?
Heat-stress trainingis designed to help employees understand the risks associated with heat exhaustion as well as the signs and symptoms. The goal is that they will be able to identify the signs early and intervene, whether on their own behalf or on behalf of their coworkers.
Heat-stress training should also include mitigation strategies that employees can take if they feel like they are in crisis as well as prevention efforts that may help them avoid heat exhaustion symptoms. Employees are empowered to help themselves both on the job and off. This helps maintain employee health, sustain productivity and limit sick days when the weather is hot.
What Is Heat-Stress Training & Mitigation for Employers?
OSHA standards may also require employers to take heat-stress training and provide mitigation efforts in the workplace. This ensures that employers are aware of what employees are learning and that they can help employees follow those directives and provide them with the tools they need to do so.
Additionally, OSHA may require that employers put in place certain mitigation efforts to protect employees. These may include providing a shaded area out of the sun for employees to take breaks, mandatory 15-minute breaks periodically throughout a shift and access to water or a cooling tent. OSHA standards vary by industry.
How Should Heat Stress Be Addressed if It Does Occur Despite Best Efforts?
Speedy intervention by employers is necessary should an employee develop signs of heat stress. Though employees must learn how to address the problem, it is up to management to ensure employees are protected at all times.
Should heat-stress signs be seen on a job site, it is important to:
Move the individual into a shaded area, preferably inside where it is air-conditioned, so they can immediately begin the process of lowering their body temperature.
Give the individual the option to lay down and rest, perhaps elevating their legs above their heart to help with circulation.
Help the individual take off any extra clothing that may be keeping their body temperature high as well as any clothing that is restricting their breathing, if that is an issue.
Guide the individual to drink water slowly. If no water is available, any nonalcoholic and non-caffeinated beverage will suffice.
Assist the individual in cooling down by giving them a cloth soaked in cold water, spritzing them with a water bottle or fanning them.
Make sure someone stays with the individual as they go through this process, so they can get what they need. Also, ensure someone is available to assist if symptoms get worse instead of better.
When Should I Call 911 for Heat Exhaustion?
If symptoms worsen, it is important to call 911 immediately. Specifically, contact medical help on behalf of the employee if they:
Are unable to drink anything.
Pass out, have a seizure or are otherwise noncommunicative.
Seem confused or agitated and unable to calm down.
Have not improved within an hour.
Have a body temperature of over 104 degrees.
Heat exhaustion in itself is not life-threatening as long as it is identified early and treated correctly and quickly. There shouldn’t be long-lasting effects, and the person should feel better as soon as their body temperature is back to normal.
Get Current on OSHA Heat-Stress Training and Mitigation Standards
Businesses in industries that are regulated by OSHA standardsshould make sure they are up to date on trainings and mitigation efforts to avoid fines and other penalties. In some cases, businesses can be shut down if they are deemed unsafe workplaces or they are putting employees in danger.
Getting the Gear You Need
In many cases, protecting employees from heat exhaustion starts with providing them with heat-protective gear like helmets, hats and cooling cloths. At Alsco, we can provide those products for you, and we can replace them when they wear out. When you work with us, you won’t have a huge stock of supplies on hand during the winter months when you don’t need heat-mitigation gear.
Call now to learn more about the services we provide and how we can help you.