One of the most common and severe hazards for outdoor workers is the heat. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, in 2015, heat exposure led to more than 2,800 illnesses and injuries involving days away from work.
If you work outside, especially in the summer months, it’s essential that you follow safety precautions and procedures to avoid heat-related illness.
Even if your job doesn’t require you to work outdoors or in a hot indoor environment, if you’re in the heat for extended periods of time working on the lawn or fixing up your house, it’s also wise to keep these safety practices in mind.
1. Stay hydrated.
Always have water on hand when outdoors. When working in the heat, OSHA recommends drinking a liter of water over one hour, which equates to one cup every fifteen minutes.
2. Take frequent breaks.
It’s important that you take time to rest and get out of the hot weather. Take frequent breaks either in the shade or an air conditioned indoor area.
3. Take time to acclimatize.
Your body will slowly build a tolerance to working in the heat. This process is called acclimatization. For new workers, start with 20% exposure on the first day and increase by, at most, 20% every day. Also, if there’s a drastic change in temperature, all workers should start adjusting to the climate by cutting their time outside in half. Workers should then slowly increase workload over the next three days, so by day four, they are back at their regular work schedule.
4. Dress light.
Depending on your outdoor work, if possible, wear lightweight and light-colored clothing. Many outdoor workers are required to wear certain gear for protection. And while light clothing can protect against heat illness, only wear these items if they will not create a hazard in your workplace.
5. Watch what you eat and drink.
Be cognizant of what you’re putting into your body. Before work, eat smaller meals and avoid alcohol and caffeine. And if you’re taking any medications, ask your health care provider if it is OK for you to work in the heat.
6. Monitor the weather.
If you will be working outside, or you manage workers who will be outside, make sure you monitor the weather and heat index. Being aware of the conditions of the day allows you to best prepare for the heat. Plus, there are many tools that can help. For instance, the OSHA-NIOSH Heat Safety App can help you calculate the heat index of your worksite, determine the risk level to workers and know which precautions to take.
7. Use the buddy system.
Work outside with someone else, or partner up at a large worksite to ensure that everyone stays safe and can get quick help if showing signs of heat-related illness. Symptoms can include headaches, dizziness, fatigue, confusion, nausea, vomiting, fainting and seizures. If someone shows signs of heat stroke or severe heat exhaustion, call 911 and get medical help immediately. Remove the person from the hot area and take off their outer clothing. Place ice or a cold compress on their body until help arrives.
This article is for informational and suggestion purposes only.
– Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
– National Safety Council (NSC)