Warning: Heat Can Kill

As we approach the dog days of summer, contractors and technicians need to be reminded about the dangers of heat stroke
Warning: Heat Can Kill
Illness and death related to heat stroke can be prevented by embracing a safer approach and following the established guidelines for heat safety.

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Professional football players are tough. But more teams are outfitting their training camps with kiddie pools — a simple way to help players suffering from the heat. Contractors need to protect their employees from the heat, too.

The NFL helped start the Korey Stringer Institute at the University of Connecticut to conduct research, education, and advocacy for the prevention of heat stroke, named for the All-Pro lineman who died from heat stroke during training camp in 2001.

Over the last 10 years, 30 high school and college football players have died from heat stroke. But the same number of workers die every year, and thousands more are taken ill. Just as some areas throughout the country are experiencing record heat waves, we’re reminded of a story out of Washington where a worker died of heat stroke installing a waterline 10 years ago this month.

The 27-year-old technician had just been hired and was not acclimated to working in hot weather. He was part of a four-man crew that was carrying and installing 12-inch PVC pipe. The crew began work around 8:30 a.m. and continued throughout the day. Temperatures ranged from 82 to 105 degrees at the job site, which was mostly exposed to direct sunlight.

The employer had provided drinking water for the workers, and it was reported that the victim consumed nearly five bottles of water during the day. At about 3 p.m., he became ill and his employer suggested that he rest in the shade. About 15 minutes later, his co-workers noticed he was slumped over and unconscious. Paramedics transported the victim to the hospital where he died six days later from complications related to heat stroke.

Just as outdoor sports teams at most levels now follow rules and procedures to help get players acclimated to and deal with the heat, OSHA launched its Heat Illness Prevention Campaign in 2011 to help protect workers and employers. While coaches have changed from the get-tough attitude of no water breaks to mandatory hydration and rest periods, it’s time for all employers to embrace a safer approach to heat safety.

Water, rest, shade

Employers have the responsibility to provide a safe work environment, including a program to prevent heat-related illness and fatalities. OSHA recommends:

  • Provide workers with water, rest and shade
    • ​Workers should drink water every 15 minutes, even if they are not thirsty
    • Rest in the shade to cool down
    • Wear a hat and light-colored clothing
  • Acclimatize new and returning workers to the heat by gradually increasing workload and providing breaks
  • Train workers about the symptoms of heat-related illnesses and their prevention
  • Monitor workers for signs of illness

According to OSHA, the most susceptible workers are those who are not used to working in the heat. It recommends an altered work schedule on the first day of a heat wave or for those returning to work after more than a week off.

Protective measures

Below 91°F (Low Risk)

  • Provide water
  • Ensure that adequate medical services are available
  • Plan ahead for times when heat index is higher, including worker heat safety training
  • Encourage workers to wear sunscreen
  • Acclimatize workers

If workers must wear heavy protective clothing, perform strenuous activity, or work in the direct sun, additional precautions are recommended. Direct sun increases the heat index by about 15°.

91°F to 103°F (Moderate Risk)

In addition to the steps listed above:

  • Remind workers to drink water often (about four cups/hour)
  • Review heat-related illness topics with workers
  • Schedule frequent breaks in cool, shaded area
  • Acclimatize workers
  • Set up buddy system - watch workers for signs of heat-related illness

If workers must wear heavy protective clothing, perform strenuous activity, or work in the direct sun:

  • Schedule activities at a time when the heat index is lower
  • Develop work/rest schedules
  • Monitor workers closely

103°F to 115°F (High Risk)

In addition to the steps listed above:

  • Alert workers of high risk
  • Actively encourage workers to drink plenty of water (about four cups/hour)
  • Limit physical exertion
  • Have a knowledgeable person at the worksite who is well-informed about heat-related illness and able to determine appropriate work/rest schedules
  • Establish and enforce work/rest schedules
  • Adjust work activities (e.g., reschedule work, pace/rotate jobs)
  • Use cooling techniques
  • Watch/communicate with workers at all times

When possible, reschedule activities to a time when heat index is lower.

Above 115°F (Very High to Extreme Risk)

  • Reschedule non-essential activity to a day or time when the heat index is lower
  • Move essential work tasks to the coolest part of the work shift; consider earlier start times, split shifts, or evening and night shifts
  • Strenuous work tasks and those requiring the use of heavy or non-breathable clothing or impermeable chemical protective clothing should not be conducted

If essential work must be done:

  • Alert workers of extreme heat hazards
  • Establish water drinking schedule (about four cups/hour)
  • Develop and enforce work/rest schedules
  • Conduct physiological monitoring (e.g., pulse, temperature, etc.)
  • Stop work if essential control methods are inadequate or unavailable

Symptoms to watch for

Heat Exhaustion: Headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, thirst and heavy sweating. It can turn into heat stroke quickly if immediate action is not taken.

Heat Stroke: Confusion, fainting, seizures, very high body temperature and red, hot, dry skin or profuse sweating. Requires immediate medical attention.

What to Do When a Worker is Ill from the Heat:

  • Call a supervisor for help. If the supervisor is not available, call 911.
  • Have someone stay with the worker until help arrives
  • Move the worker to a cooler/shaded area
  • Remove outer clothing
  • Fan and mist the worker with water; apply ice (ice bags or ice towels)
  • Provide cool drinking water, if able to drink

IF THE WORKER IS NOT ALERT or seems confused, it may be a heat stroke. CALL 911 IMMEDIATELY and apply ice as soon as possible.


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