As we move into the hottest time of the year in Minnesota, it is a good time to discuss the effects of heat on the human body. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration says that heat-related illnesses can occur indoors, as well as outdoors. Heat stroke, heat exhaustion and similar medical conditions related to furnaces in factories or recycling plants, outdoor jobs that include extensive exposure to the sun and heavy work requiring the use heavy safety clothing in hot conditions can all lead to serious heat illnesses.
Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related medical condition. When the body can longer regulate body temperature, a worker can become confused, experience seizures and lose consciousness. If hazardous conditions are included in the workplace, the decreased ability to focus on job duties from heat stroke can cause falls and serious work injuries well beyond the heat stroke. But make no mistake -- OSHA warns employers and workers that heat stroke is a serious issue. Workers should consider heat stroke as a medical emergency and know that the condition can be fatal in and of itself.
Preventing heat stroke in the workplace
Avoiding the onset of heat stroke is a true safety concern for workers who are exposed to extreme heat. Keeping hydrated is a good first step. OSHA recommends that workers drink one liter of water every hour -- which translates to roughly a cup of water every 15 minutes. Workers should have access to shade or an air-conditioned area to obtain rest and cool down during the workday.
Recognizing the symptoms of heat-related illnesses
Every workplace with high heat levels should have policies in place to recognize the symptoms of heat illnesses and address problems immediately. The symptoms of heat illnesses can vary greatly. For instance, a person suffering from heat exhaustion may sweat heavily. If the worker's body temperature rises (leading toward the more serious heat stroke), the worker stop sweating completely.
Common symptoms of heat illness include:
- High body temp
- Heavy thirst
- Heat rash
Workers who are experiencing symptoms need immediate attention. Workers should be moved to a cooler area until medical professionals arrive at the scene. Using ice, cool or wet compresses or wet clothing can help to bring the worker's body temperature down.