Keeping outdoor workers safe in the scorching desert heat
As the Southwest U.S. braces itself for a hot summer, no one is exempt from dealing with the effects of extreme desert heat. Young children’s bodies haven’t developed the ability to safely regulate temperature and older individuals are susceptible due to factors such as medications and other diseases. Outside workers are also at risk, especially new workers, temporary workers and those who are returning to work after a week or more off.
Employers may want to prepare workers for potentially dangerous weather conditions, especially if they work outside. Staff who are at risk for occupational heat exposure should know the signs of heat illnesses and take the necessary precautions to limit the impact of triple-digit heat.
According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), workers who perform their jobs during hot weather or in direct sun and are at risk of heat illness include agriculture and construction staff and emergency responders.
For heat illness prevention, OSHA recommends employers implement engineering controls that may lower temperatures and keep workers cool. Employers should have an air-conditioned environment whenever possible, such as through equipping construction equipment cabs or break rooms with air conditioners. Proper circulation and ventilation are key components in ensuring workers do not succumb to heat-related illnesses.
If employers cannot provide workers with adequate cooling or ventilation, they may want to create a shaded area for staff to take a break and cool down. OSHA recommends employers allow workers to rest at several periods throughout the day rather than having them exposed to heat for long stretches. It also recommends revising work hours to early morning or evening periods when the temperatures are lower.
Train workers to recognize warning signs
As part of effective employee training programs, employers may want to educate workers on the signs of heat illness. Knowing the symptoms of heat stress may encourage workers and supervisors to take quick action to prevent various heat illnesses, especially the deadliest: heat stroke. Workers should be trained in heat-related illness prevention procedures and to contact emergency personnel in the event that a co-worker falls ill.
Prolonged exposure to heat may result in heat illnesses that range from mild symptoms, such as heat cramps, to severe, which include heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Signs of heat exhaustion include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Fast heart beat
The symptoms of heat stroke are more extreme and include:
- Red, hot and dry skin
After teaching workers how to recognize these symptoms, they may be more likely to act in case of an emergency.
It’s important workers are trained and prepared to call for medical help in case of a heat illness-related emergency. OSHA suggests transporting the affected person to a place with shade, and giving him or her water gradually if he or she is not vomiting. Employers may want to have an emergency heat kit with ice packs and cool water ready to go in case of emergency. The progression of heat-related signs and symptoms can be curtailed from escalating into something more serious if precautions are taken at the first sign of trouble.
In addition, self-care is the first line of defense when it comes to heat related injuries. Replenishing fluids, using sunscreen and wearing appropriate clothing, including climate-controlled items such as cooling vests, and other personal protective equipment (PPE) are ways to minimize heat-related injuries and keep everyone cool.
About CopperPoint: Founded in 1925, CopperPoint Insurance Companies is Arizona’s premier provider of workers compensation insurance. For over 90 years, CopperPoint has been a trusted partner for Arizona companies to protect what matters most: their businesses and employees. As a leading advocate of workplace safety, CopperPoint is proactive in building a culture of safety throughout Arizona and in keeping the state’s workers compensation insurance rates affordable. In doing so, CopperPoint delivers peace of mind to more than 12,000 businesses and their employees.