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Safety at Work: Heat Stress Awareness and Prevention

The summer season drives many to seek shelter in the shade, or in an air conditioned environment. But for some workers, escaping extreme temperatures while on the clock isn’t so easy. Heat stress is a real risk for those employed in places like foundries, factories, bakeries, laundries, and construction sites. Whether indoors or out, no specific Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards cover heat stress, but the General Duty Clause protects employees against heat-related illnesses due to the hazard’s serious nature.

Heat stress can manifest in several ways, including cramps, fainting, heat rash, heat exhaustion and, most dangerous of all, heat stroke. Though the majority of us understand the importance of keeping body temperatures stable to prevent heat illness, many don’t recognize the factors that lead to heat stress. Aftermath technicians are trained to recognize heat stress, and are instructed on how to prevent it.

Two Factors of Heat Stress

Two primary sources contribute to overheating: environmental conditions and physical exertion. While each factor may not be present every time, a combination of the two could increase risk.

Air temperature helps the body maintain a consistent internal temperature. Sweating does not cool the body unless the skin’s moisture can evaporate. In hot environments where the air temperature is warmer than the skin, the body cannot reduce heat, and its ability to maintain an acceptable body temperature may be impaired.  This can happen in enclosed spaces or outdoors – or when wearing personal protective equipment for extended periods of time. Workers wearing PPE can experience increased body temperatures of approximately 10-degrees more than when wearing normal work clothing.

Heat illnesses can manifest in various ways. Cramps, rashes, nausea, and lightheadedness are just some of the possible symptoms. A more detailed list can be found here. In addition to the risk of heat stress related illnesses, high heat/high humidity environments can contribute to safety hazards. Mental confusion, tiredness, fogging of safety glasses, and sweaty hands can also lead to accidents. Anyone suffering from these or other heat-related symptoms should be treated for dehydration with cool water and moved to a cool or shaded environment.

Preventing Heat Stress on the Job

Scheduling routine rest periods is critical to employee safety when working in high temperatures. Aftermath supervisors chart the temperatures of working conditions at routine intervals and adjust for PPE and other factors. Short periods of heat exposure are better than fewer, longer exposures, so employees take frequent “breaks” to cool down. These “rest periods” are far from unproductive, but allow the employee to perform tasks that are not as strenuous as regular labor. Aftermath technicians catch up on paperwork, update the customer on work progress, or handle job details.

Preventative tips from OSHA are available to workers and employers to protect against heat-related illnesses. OSHA’s “Water. Rest. Shade.” campaign specifically targets those who work outdoors, particularly in the summer months.

National Safety Month is winding down, but Aftermath’s commitment to safety is year round. Our technicians are available nationwide, 24/7.  If you are looking for dedicated, compassionate biohazard and trauma cleanup, call 877-698-6392

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