Karma may come back around and find us in the most inopportune moments. In February, we considered cold temperature exposures as high hazard, many had weeks of some of the coldest temperatures in recent history and many had to discover new safe working standards. Adding insult to injury, many had power outages at home and at work to content with.
Now, the year has shifted and we find a new exposure awaiting our attention: heat. Working outside in hot weather has its’ own problems, especially in in the agribusiness industry where this risk is tied directly with the work at hand. OSHA estimates that approximately 50-70% of all outdoor heat fatalities occur within the first few days of working in hot environments.
The human body needs time to gradually build up heat acclimatization or tolerances. Many times this may mean the mind must let the body catch up to make sure working conditions match what is achievable.
So what can we do to make sure we are aware and ready for the heat wave of work? Follow the general rule: Rest, Shade and Fluids.
Supervisors or managers should keep a keen watch on employees when exposure to direct sunlight and heat for extended periods of time are part of the day’s work, whether it is bailing hay or moving livestock. Stress breaks in shaded areas and ensure they are drinking plenty of fluids.
What can occur if we are not taking steps to lower the risk of heat exposure? Dehydration occurs if we do not consume enough fluids – whether from drink or food – so a healthy dietary consumption can change the game. Symptoms of dehydration include headaches, dry mouth and poor concentration. Water is one of the best types of fluids to combat dehydration. Water is not the only option to fight dehydration, although we would say it is the most important to have for your body.
- Coffee and/or tea are also good fluids as long as you do not load them up with sugar or fatty creams.
- Soda/Pop drinks provide very little nutrients and add to your calorie intake.
- Eating food can generate as much as 20% of your total water intake. Fresh fruits and vegetables are as much as 80% water.
- Sports drinks can help replace much needed electrolytes that are expended during work in high heat work areas.
It is recommended that we drink 6-8 glasses of fluids per day and this amount should be increased when working in hot environments. Protection from the sun (including hat or long sleeve shirts) should always be part of your personal protection. Consider the time of day to perform tasks by creating plans to avoid risk. It may be helpful to start early in the day and take long breaks in the middle of day, when the sun is at its’ highest point. Not always feasible, but working during the evening hours may be an option for teams when the exposure may be too great to circumvent just by slight alterations to the schedule.
Heat stroke is a dangerous condition that is life threatening. It is important to begin cooling a person who might have heat stroke immediately - every minute counts. If you can’t immerse the person in water, try to cool them with a cool water spray or cold compresses. If the person starts behaving normally again, stop cooling them.
- Feeling faint or fatigue
- Nausea or vomiting
- The person has stopped sweating
- Remove the person from the heat
- Put the person in cool water up to his or her neck if possible, or spray them with cool water
- If the person becomes unresponsive and is not breathing normally or only gasping, give CPR
Here's a cool tool from OSHA-NIOSH that provides locallized, real-time data to help you plan safer outdoor work activity schedules.
To learn more about how our safety teams can help your company create a safer work environment, contact your Marsh & McLennan Agency representative.