Workers who are exposed to extreme heat or work in hot environments are at risk of succumbing to heat stress. Exposure to extreme heat can result in occupational illnesses and injuries. Heat stress can bring on heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, and/or heat rashes. Prevention of heat stress in workers is important. Employers should provide training to workers to ensure they understand what heat stress is, how it affects their health and safety, and how it can be prevented.
The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, Cal-OSHA is the State regulatory body governing California’s heat illness prevention laws passed in 2005. This year, Cal-OSHA announced revisions to its heat illness prevention plans. Effective May 1, 2015, employers should make the necessary changes to accommodate for the updates and ensure compliance with the revised regulations. The provisions include requirements for employers to place water closer to workers, provide shade that would shelter all of them, and in cases of high heat, provide 10 minute breaks for every two hours of work.
Below are some highlights of the revised
- Water must be “fresh, pure, suitably cool” and located as close as practicable to where employees are working.
- Shade must be provided when temperatures reach 80 degrees (previously 85 degrees) and sufficient to accommodate all employees on recovery or rest periods, and those onsite taking meal periods.
- Employers must observe and monitor employees taking a “preventative cool down rest” for symptoms of heat illness. Employers must encourage employees to remain in the shade and may not order employees back to work until symptoms are gone. Employees with symptoms must be provided appropriate first aid or emergency response.
- Employers in certain industries must institute high-heat procedures if the temperature reaches or exceeds 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Such procedures must ensure effective observation and monitoring. Employers must conduct pre-shift meetings that include a review of the high-heat procedures, encourage employees to drink water, and remind employees of their right to take cool down rest periods.
- Emergency response procedures must include effective communication, appropriate response to signs and symptoms of heat illness, and procedures for contacting emergency responders to help stricken workers.
- Acclimatization procedures include the observation of all employees during a heat wave and close observation of new employees during their first two weeks on the job.
- In addition to previously required content, training programs must now include content regarding: (1) the employer’s responsibility to provide water, shade, cool-down rests, and access to first aid; (2) an employee’s right to exercise his or her rights under the standard without retaliation; (3) acclimatization; and (4) appropriate first aid and/or emergency response.
Find the complete guide of regulation amendments on Cal-OSHA’s website: http://www.dir.ca.gov/dosh/heatillnessinfo.html
In the event that the above preventative measures should fail to protect workers, it remains critical to be able to recognize the symptoms of heat illnesses and how to treat them.
Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related disorder. It occurs when the body is no longer able to maintain a healthy temperature. During a heat stroke the body’s temperature rises rapidly, the sweating mechanism fails, and the body is unable to cool down. When heat stroke occurs, a person’s body temperature can rise to 106 degrees Fahrenheit or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not given.
Symptoms of heat stroke include:
- Hot, dry skin or profuse sweating
- Throbbing headache
- High body temperature
- Slurred speech
Take the following steps to treat a worker with heat stroke:
- Call 911 and notify their supervisor.
- Move the sick worker to a cool shaded area.
- Cool the worker using methods such as:
- Soaking their clothes with water.
- Spraying, sponging, or showering them with water.
- Fanning their body.
Heat exhaustion is the body’s response to an excessive loss of water and salt, usually through excessive sweating. Workers most prone to heat exhaustion are those that are elderly, have high blood pressure, and those working in a hot environment.
Symptoms of heat exhaustion include:
- Heavy sweating
- Extreme weakness or fatigue
- Dizziness, confusion
- Clammy, moist skin
- Pale or flushed complexion
- Muscle cramps
- Slightly elevated body temperature
- Fast and shallow breathing
Treat a worker suffering from heat exhaustion with the following:
- Have them rest in a cool, shaded or air-conditioned area.
- Have them drink plenty of water or other cool, nonalcoholic beverages.
- Have them take a cool shower, bath, or sponge bath.
Heat cramps typically affect workers who sweat heavily during strenuous activity. Heavy sweating depletes essential salt and moisture from the body, causing painful muscle cramps. Heat cramps may also be a symptom of heat exhaustion.
Symptoms of heat cramps include:
- Muscle pain or spasms usually in the abdomen, arms, or legs.
Workers with heat cramps should:
- Stop all activity, and sit in a cool place.
- Drink clear juice or a sports beverage.
- Do not return to strenuous work for a few hours after the cramps subside because further exertion may lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
- Seek medical attention if any of the following apply:
- The worker has heart problems.
- The worker is on a low-sodium diet.
- The cramps do not subside within one hour.
Recommendations for Workers
Workers should avoid exposure to extreme heat, strong sunlight, and high humidity when possible. When these exposures cannot be avoided, workers should take the following steps to prevent heat stress:
- Wear light-colored, loose-fitting, breathable clothing such as cotton.
- Avoid non-breathing synthetic clothing.
- Gradually build up to heavy work.
- Schedule heavy work during the coolest parts of day.
- Take more breaks in extreme heat and humidity.
- Take breaks in the shade or a cool area when possible.
- Drink water frequently. Drink enough water that you never become thirsty. Approximately 1 cup every 15-20 minutes.
- Avoid alcohol, and drinks with large amounts of caffeine or sugar.
- Be aware that protective clothing or personal protective equipment may increase the risk of heat stress.
- Monitor your physical condition and that of your coworkers.
Adapted from the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention