Extreme heat causes more deaths than any other weather-related hazard; each year more than 65,000 people seek medical treatment for extreme heat exposure. In 2014 alone, 2,630 workers suffered from heat-related illness, and 18 died from heat stroke and related causes on the job, according to OSHA.
Work-related exposure to heat can also result in reduced productivity and growing risk of injuries, such as those caused by sweaty palms, fogged-up safety glasses, and cognitive impairment (that is, mental confusion, impaired judgment, and poor coordination).
How to stay safe outdoors in extreme heat
Some examples of recommendations that can be applied in many different outdoor workplaces include:
- Limit time in the heat and/or increase recovery time in a cool environment.
- Increase the number of workers per task.
- Train supervisors and workers about heat stress, including symptoms of heat-related illness, first aid, and risk factors.
- Use a buddy system where workers observe each other for signs of heat intolerance.
- Provide adequate amounts of cool, potable water near the work area and encourage workers to drink frequently.
- Use a heat alert program (additional written guidelines) whenever the weather service forecasts that a heat wave is likely to occur.
- Develop a plan to get employees acclimatized to hot weather and to increase physical fitness.
Here are the most common heat related illness, know the signs and when to get help.
Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness. It occurs when the body becomes unable to control its temperature: the body’s temperature rises rapidly, the sweating mechanism fails, and the body is unable to cool down. When heat stroke occurs, the body temperature can rise to 106°F or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not given.
Rhabdomyolysis is a medical condition associated with heat stress and prolonged physical exertion, resulting in the rapid breakdown, rupture, and death of muscle. When muscle tissue dies, electrolytes and large proteins are released into the bloodstream that can cause irregular heart rhythms and seizures, and damage the kidneys.
For more information on heat-related illnesses, visit www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/heatstress. To install the OSHA-NIOSH Heat Safety app on your iOS or Android device, visit www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/heatstress/heatapp.html.
NIOSH is the federal institute that conducts research and makes recommendations for preventing work-related injuries, illnesses and deaths. For more information about NIOSH, visit www.cdc.gov/niosh/.
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to ensure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. For more information, visit www.osha.gov.