It’s the unofficial start of summer, causing many of us to daydream about having fun in the sun. But when you’re a contractor, the summer brings with it heat and humidity—and that’s no picnic.
An excessively hot or humid work environment is not only an interference that can lead to fatigue and poor judgment and decision making, but it can be downright dangerous. Therefore, having a comprehensive heat-stress program is paramount. Sufficient rest and proper hydration are key elements to any heat-stress program. Additionally, employees should avoid performing excessive outdoor physical activity prior to coming to work so as to avoid showing up at the job site in an already overheated and exhausted state.
Despite warm weather, heat-related illnesses (heat stress, heat exhaustion, heat stroke) can be reduced by implementing effective programs. Most importantly, employees should constantly monitor themselves and their co-workers for signs and symptoms of these illnesses, as immediate intervention is necessary when they’re observed.
Here are the signs and symptoms of heat stress:
- Excessive sweating
- Red, flushed skin
- General body weakness
- Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
- Muscle cramps in the hands and feet
- Dark-colored urine
To help avoid heat-related problems, make sure you have these countermeasures ready:
- Allow for breaks in air-conditioned areas. If AC is not available, find shade, cooler areas, and/or fans.
- Drink plenty of decaffeinated drinks. Sports drinks such as Gatorade are preferred, as they will replenish lost electrolytes.
- Drink up to 10 8-oz. cups of water in an 8-hour shift. Be careful not to overhydrate.
- Do not wait until you are thirsty to drink water. Thirst is a poor indicator of heat stress.
- Wet your hair, neck, and face as frequently as possible with water or a spray bottle.
To help prevent work-related heat illnesses from occurring, pay attention to the weather predictions. If excessive heat and humidity are in the forecast, ensure that countermeasures have been developed and are ready to be implemented. Allow new employees assigned to high-heat areas time to acclimate to the elevated temperatures and humidity. Finally, do not drink alcohol prior to coming to work and avoid caffeinated drinks in high-heat situations. Caffeine is a diuretic and actually causes people to lose water!
By recognizing heat-stress signs and symptoms at their onset and following the above simple guidelines, you can help ensure that your employees will be safe on the job and minimize heat-related illnesses this summer season.