Thursday, May 24, 2012
Heat and Hydration
Each year, thousands of outdoor workers experience serious illnesses such as heat exhaustion. For 2010, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 4,190 workers suffered from heat illness and 40 died from heat stroke and related causes on the job. Although outdoor workers in a variety of industries are susceptible to heat illness those in construction and agriculture are the most vulnerable. Here in sunny Florida, workers’ are at greater threat for heat illness. And as we approach our hottest season, here are a few simply ways to protect your workers.
Workers exposed to hot and humid conditions are at risk of heat illness, especially those doing heavy work tasks or using bulky protective clothing and equipment. Some workers might be at greater risk than others if they have not built up a tolerance to hot conditions.
The body normally cools itself by sweating. During hot weather, especially with high humidity, sweating isn't enough. Body temperature can rise to dangerous levels if precautions are not taken. Heat illnesses range from heat rash and heat cramps to heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Heat stroke can result in death and requires immediate medical attention.
How can heat illness be prevented?
FLUID, REST, SHADE
Drinking fluids often, taking breaks, and limiting time in the heat can help prevent heat illness. Adequate fluid hydration is important. At the onset of heat stress, many individuals actually experience a marked decrease in their body’s natural thirst mechanism, causing them to drink less.
Although water is essential, fluids rich in electrolytes are important to maintain the body’s fluid and electrolyte balance. Drinking water adequately rehydrates the body, but will not effectively and quickly replace the electrolytes needed to keep the body functioning properly. For these reasons, employers should consider providing electrolyte replacement drinks (such as Gatorade, Sqwincher, Powerade) at the worksite for workers. These products are available in liquids, concentrates, and powders that can provide convenient access for use at the worksite.
Employers should also include prevention steps in worksite training and plans. Allow workers to gradually build up tolerance to heavy work during hot conditions, helping them to become acclimated. Employers should take steps that assist workers to become acclimated, especially workers who are new to working outdoors in the heat or have been away from work for a week or more. Gradually increase workloads and allow more frequent breaks during the first week of work. Also, it’s important to know and look out for the symptoms of heat illness during hot weather. Plan for an emergency and know what to do — acting quickly can save lives!
For additional information and worker education information, visit: http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatillness/index.html