Working in heat can cause problems
- Joe McHaney
- Madras Pioneer - News
n Oregon temperatures climb into the 90s and even the 100s, people are not acclimated to the heat and that can cause serious problems.
Workers run the risk of developing a heat-related illness when physical exertion is combined with high temperatures and high humidity.
Employers and workers should be familiar with some of the common signs of heat exhaustion, according to Oregon OSHA, a division of the Department of Consumer and Business Services.
A person overcome with heat exhaustion will still sweat but may experience extreme fatigue, nausea, lightheadedness, or a headache.
The person could have clammy and moist skin, a pale complexion, and a normal or only slightly elevated body temperature. If heat exhaustion is not treated promptly, the illness could progress to heat stroke, and possibly even death.
"Employers need to plan ahead. These types of illnesses can sneak up on workers," said Penny Wolf-McCormick, health enforcement manager for Oregon OSHA.
From 2007 through 2011, 38 people received benefits through Oregon's workers' compensation system for heat-related illnesses.
To help those suffering from heat exhaustion:
. Move them to a cool, shaded area. Do not leave them alone.
. Loosen and remove heavy clothing.
. Provide cool water to drink (a small cup every 15 minutes) if they are not feeling sick to their stomach.
. Try to cool them by fanning them. Cool the skin with a spray mist of cold water or a wet cloth.
. If they do not feel better in a few minutes, call 911 for emergency help.
Certain medications, wearing personal protective equipment while on the job, and a past case of heat stress create a higher risk for heat illness.
Heat stroke is a different condition than heat exhaustion. There are several reactions that occur in the human body with heat stroke: hot, red skin (looks like sunburn); mood changes; irritability and confusion; and collapsing (person will not respond to verbal commands). Call for emergency help immediately if you think the person is suffering from heat stroke. If not treated quickly, the condition can result in death.
Here are some tips for preventing a heat-induced illness:
Perform the heaviest, most labor-intensive work during the coolest part of the day.
Use the buddy system (work in pairs) to monitor the heat.
Drink plenty of cool water (one small cup every 15 to 20 minutes).
Wear light, loose-fitting, breathable clothing (such as cotton).
Take frequent short breaks in cool, shaded areas - allow your body to cool down.
Avoid eating large meals before working in hot environments.
Avoid caffeine and alcoholic beverages (these beverages make the body lose water and increase the risk of heat illnesses).
"If employers and workers take these precautions, workers will be safe and the summer will be much better for all concerned," Wolf-McCormick said.
Federal OSHA recently released a heat stress app for mobile phones that allows workers and supervisors to calculate the heat index for their worksite. The tool is available at http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatillness/heat_index/heat_app.html.