Protecting Employees from Extreme Heat

It seems that only yesterday we were talking about the sobering effect of winter, the potential hazards of icy walkways and the dangers of cold weather for outside workers. Well, no sooner do the icicles melt and we’re into warnings about exposure to extreme heat!

The Sun by by Arun Kulshreshtha.Wikimedia Commons

Although workers in air-conditioned environments may complain about the way it dries their skin or groan about shifting between sizzling outside temperatures and icy air-conditioned offices; the worst heat related challenges will be faced by employees who work outside in the summer heat (or year round in enclosed, hot spaces).

Workers who are exposed to such environments may be at risk for sunburn, heat stress and increased incidence of injury.

Hazards of Extreme Heat

  1. Sunburn: Aside from the pain and discomfort associated with sunburn, it also increases a person’s risk of contracting skin cancer. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, severe, blistering sunburn represents the greatest risk. Heat Stress:
  2. Heat stress includes heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps and heat rashes. Symptoms of heat stress range from confusion and heavy sweating to nausea, irritability, dizziness, muscle cramps and spasms. Other signs of severe heat stress include; hot dry skin, hallucinations, chills, throbbing headache and slurred speech.
  3. Injury: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heat can also increase the risk of injuries in workers as a result of sweaty palms, fogged-up safety glasses, and dizziness.

Protecting Employees from Extreme Heat

The CDC offers the following recommendations to employers to help them reduce employees’ risk of extreme heat exposure:

  • Schedule maintenance and repair jobs in hot areas for cooler months.
  • Schedule hot jobs for the cooler part of the day.
  • Acclimatize workers by exposing them for progressively longer periods to hot work environments.
  • Reduce the physical demands of workers.
  • Use relief workers or assign extra workers for physically demanding jobs.
  • Provide cool water or liquids to workers.
  • Avoid alcohol, and drinks with large amounts of caffeine or sugar.
  • Provide rest periods with water breaks.
  • Provide cool areas for use during break periods.
  • Monitor workers who are at risk of heat stress.
  • Provide heat stress training that includes information about: worker risk, prevention, symptoms and the importance of monitoring for symptoms, treatment, and personal protective equipment.

The CDC also advises employees to take responsibility for reducing risk by avoiding (when possible), exposure to extreme heat, sun exposure and high humidity; and, when these exposures cannot be avoided, to take the following steps to prevent heat stress:

  • Wear light-colored, loose-fitting, breathable clothing such as cotton.
  • Avoid non-breathing synthetic clothing.
  • Gradually build up to heavy work.
  • Schedule heavy work during the coolest parts of day.
  • Take more breaks in extreme heat and humidity.
  • Take breaks in the shade or a cool area when possible.
  • Drink water frequently. Drink enough water that you never become thirsty. Approximately 1 cup every 15-20 minutes.
  • Avoid alcohol, and drinks with large amounts of caffeine or sugar.
  • Be aware that protective clothing or personal protective equipment may increase the risk of heat stress.
  • Monitor physical condition of self and coworkers.

Practice Safe Sun

While your employees may not be exposed to extreme heat in their typical workday, it’s important to remember that outside events and activities can also expose your people to the same hazards faced by outdoor workers, especially if physical activity is involved. Either way, if you’re sending your employees out into the summer sun; take precautions and follow the recommendations described above to protect them from the heat. For those employees who are safely ensconced in dry, air-conditioned offices all day, you might want to consider providing non-allergenic hand lotion in the restrooms!


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