In the height of summer in 2012 it was the warmest year on record. Fueled by drought conditions, huge fires destroyed homes and burned thousands of acres in western states.

Temperatures above 100 degrees have persisted to an unprecedented extent across the county. Severe storms in the northeast caused multiple power outages that combined with high temperatures to cause uncomfortable and even unsafe conditions.

This summer, then, it seems more important than ever to pay attention to the dangers of heat. You need to ensure that your workers are safe.

The Occupational Health and Safety Adminstration (OSHA) has created a campaign to help employers and workers understand and prevent heat illness. Heat illness can occur under conditions of heat and humidity, particularly with work that requires exertion and/or heavy protective clothing and equipment.

The three main keys to prevention of heat-related illness are: water, rest, and shade. Train your outdoor workers to pay attention to all three. It's important that those working in heat conditions drink water, even if not thirsty and that they rest in the shade to cool down. Heavy work in hot conditions should be built up to so that the worker's body can acclimate properly and safely.

There are different degrees of heat-related illness from heat cramps to heat exhaustion to the extremely serious heat stroke. Train your workers and supervisors to recognize heat exhaustion symptoms such as nausea, headache, dizziness and drenching sweats with cold, clammy skin. Heat stroke is particularly dangerous, sometimes fatal, and can occur with no heat exhaustion symptoms occurring first. Immediate, emergency medical care should be obtained with any of these symptoms:

  • Confusion, anxiety, or loss of consciousness
  • Very rapid or dramatically slowed heartbeat
  • Rapid rise in body temperature that reaches 104 to 106 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Marked decrease in sweating accompanied by hot, flushed, dry skin
  • Convulsion
  • Other heat-related symptoms not relieved by shade or air-conditioning and fluids

OSHA also provides a Heat App for free download in English or Spanish for iPhone or Android. The app provides a heat index for a particular worksite and the related level of risk for outdoor workers.

Click on reminders--including drinking enough fluids, scheduling rest breaks, planning for and knowing what to do in an emergency, adjusting work operations, gradually building up the workload for new workers, training on heat illness signs and symptoms, and monitoring each other for signs and symptoms of heat-related illness--for that level of risk.

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