As temperatures rise this summer, Oregon OSHA encourages employers and workers in construction, agriculture and other labor-intensive activities to learn the signs of heat illness and focus on prevention.
Exposure to heat can lead to headaches, cramps, dizziness, fatigue, nausea or vomiting and even seizures or death. From 2011 through 2015, 28 people received benefits through Oregon’s workers’ compensation system for heat-related illnesses (at least three days away from work).
“Workers in Oregon tend to be more likely to suffer from heat-related illnesses, because they’re used to working in mild weather and often not acclimated to this type of heat,” said Penny Wolf-McCormick, health enforcement manager for Oregon OSHA. “That’s why it’s especially important for employers to provide drinking water, offer shaded places for workers to take breaks, and to watch for signs of trouble.”
Here are some tips for preventing a heat-related illness:
* Perform the heaviest, most labor-intensive work during the coolest part of the day.
* Use the buddy system (work in pairs) to monitor the heat.
* Drink plenty of cool water (one small cup every 15 to 20 minutes).
* Wear light, loose-fitting, breathable clothing (such as cotton).
* Take frequent short breaks in cool, shaded areas — allow your body to cool down.
* Avoid eating large meals before working in hot environments.
* Avoid caffeine and alcoholic beverages (these make the body lose water and increase the risk of heat illnesses).
To help those suffering from heat exhaustion:
* Move them to a cool, shaded area. Do not leave them alone.
* Loosen and remove heavy clothing.
* Provide cool water to drink (a small cup every 15 minutes) if they are not feeling sick to their stomach.
* Try to cool them by fanning them. Cool the skin with a spray mist of cold water or a wet cloth.
* If they do not feel better in a few minutes, call 911 for emergency help.
Certain medications, wearing personal protective equipment while on the job, and a past case of heat stress create a higher risk for heat illness. Heat stroke is a more severe condition than heat exhaustion and can result in death. Immediately call for emergency help if you think the person is suffering from heat stroke.
Employers can calculate the heat index for their worksite with the federal OSHA heat stress app for mobile phones. The tool is available at
https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatillness/heat_index/heat_app.html. A number of other tools are available at https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatillness/index.html.
Oregon OSHA also has a pocket-sized booklet available, in both English and Spanish, with tips for working in the heat: http://osha.oregon.gov/OSHAPubs/4926.pdf. (English version).