2012 will be remembered for Hurricane Sandy. But there was another memorable aspect of last summer’s weather. If you work outdoors, or if you oversee a job site, you don’t have to be reminded that temperatures soared past the century mark in most of Texas, Oklahoma and South Dakota, while much of the rest of the country sweltered in hotter-than-average temperatures. Some workers might build a tolerance to hot conditions, but no one is immune to the risks. The body normally cools itself by sweating, during hot and humid weather, sweating isn’t enough. Heat illness can strike workers exposed to hot and humid conditions, especially those doing physically strenuous work or wearing bulky clothing.
Knowing the symptoms of heat illness is crucial. So is planning for an emergency and knowing what to do. Heat illness results from the body temperature rising to dangerous levels, and symptoms range from heat rash and cramps to exhaustion and heat stroke. Heatstroke requires immediate medical attention since it can result in death. Darker urine is a sign of dehydration, so make sure to drink enough water to maintain light-colored urine.
You can prevent heat illness with water, rest and shade. Drinking water often, taking breaks, and limiting the time you spend working in the heat can be the wisest strategies for staying safe. Gradually build up to heavy work rather than charging full-speed ahead at the start of your shift. This helps you become acclimated and helps you build up a tolerance to the heat.
Workers who are new to working outdoors—and even those who have been off the job for a couple of weeks—must especially remember to gradually increase workloads and take frequent breaks.
Over the long, hot summer, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the national watchdog for worksite safety, provided guidance and tools to mitigate the risk for heat exhaustion and heat stroke for outdoor workers. The guidelines supplemented regular OSHA training now required by many construction employers.
One of the most useful tools OSHA has made available is a mobile app designed to provide important safety information on working outdoors in high temperatures. It enables the user to calculate the heat index for a specific worksite. With the heat index determined, the app informs the user of the corresponding risk level to an outdoor worker and provides reminders about the necessary measures to be taken for that risk level.
The app, called the Heat Safety Tool, has already become a popular download, with nearly 52,000 downloads so far. The Heat Safety Tool is available in English and Spanish and can be used on three platforms: Android, iPhone, and Blackberry. It can be downloaded at the Heat Safety Tool website.
If you work outdoors, the following tips will help ensure your safety the next time temperatures climb to potentially dangerous levels:
- If possible, wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing
- Shade yourself with a wide-brimmed hat
- Use sunscreen rated SPF 30 or higher
- Drink extra water
- Fight salt depletion with an electrolyte-rich sports drink during extreme heat
- If possible, shift your work to the coolest times of the day