With a triple-digit heat index set to remain in effect, now is the time to talk to your employees about the dangers of heat-related illnesses. When it comes to the prevention of heatstroke, in particular, there are precautions an employer can and should take to protect workers from excessive heat exposure, in addition to encouraging good hydration practices in general, including:
- Don’t just make water readily available–require workers to drink regularly, throughout the work day.
- Train your employees to spot the signs and symptoms of dehydration and heat-related illness (see below).
- Encourage the use of sunscreen, and provide it if possible.
- Allow for flexible scheduling wherever possible, to take advantage of cooler periods in the day.
- Provide regular breaks throughout the day (typically, 2-4, depending on the heat index) in a shaded area of the job site.
Providing an ample supply of water for workers who spend all or a portion of their day working outside in high temperatures might seem like a given, but in fact, is often overlooked on the job site. Reminding employees to drink plenty of water throughout the day, and encouraging them to take water breaks, should be communicated both verbally and in written form, wherever possible.
Supervisors often tell us that their employees don’t need these reminders. After all, isn’t staying hydrated just common sense? No, as it turns out. That’s because the signs of dehydration can be very subtle, and can mirror other health issues. And, don’t forget that when people get busy during course of a work day, it’s easy to forget how much water has been consumed. In extreme working conditions, sometimes your body’s natural cooling system simply isn’t enough. Heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke pose a very real threat to outdoor workers.
Signs and symptoms of severe dehydration include:
- Muscle cramps
- Heavy sweating
- Pale or cold skin
- Weakness and confusion
- Nausea or vomiting
- Fast heartbeat
- Dark-colored urine
Signs and symptoms of heatstroke are typically more severe, and include:
- Fever of 104 or higher
- Flushed or red skin
- Lack of sweating
- Trouble breathing
OSHA is a good source of information on the prevention of heat-related illness in outdoor workers. Read about the agency’s ongoing campaign to keep workers healthy here.