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Be on Alert for Signs of Heat Exhaustion

Be on Alert for Signs of Heat Exhaustion (photo courtesy of Florida Construction Law, OSHA)During the summer months, construction companies across the country get the majority of their work done. However it’s also one of the most dangerous times of the year to be outside. The sun beating down from above, the humidity and/or dry air surrounding work crews, and the reflection off a hot blacktop all combine to conspire against our efforts out in the field, causing heat illness even in those who are used to hot conditions.

Heat illness occurs when a person’s body temperature rises to levels beyond what the body can cool down by sweating. Those not drinking water frequently or not resting in shade or air conditioning can suffer dangerous consequences – from heat rash and heat cramps, to heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Heat stroke requires immediate medical attention, and can result in death.

Between 2008 and 2014, OSHA responded to 109 heat-related fatalities involving outdoor workers in the United States. As a result, OSHA introduced the nationwide Heat Illness Prevention Campaign in 2011. This effort aims to raise awareness and teach workers and employees about the dangers of working in hot weather, as well as to provide valuable resources to address heat concerns. They also have a free mobile app called the Heat Safety Tool that can help identify and prevent heat illness to those in the field.

Did you know working in full sunlight can increase heat index values by 15 degrees Fahrenheit? According to OSHA, the industries most affected by heat illness are construction, trade, transportation and utilities, agriculture, building and grounds maintenance, landscaping services, and support services for oil and gas operations. However, any worker exposed to hot and humid conditions is at risk of heat illness, especially those doing heavy work tasks or wearing bulky protective gear.

Heat illness can be prevented. Employers should establish a complete program that includes providing plenty of water, rest, and shade, and they should educate workers on preventing heat illness. Workloads should be gradually increased for a week or more to acclimatize workers to the heat, and work schedules should be modified as needed. Employers should also have a plan in place for emergencies and train workers to spot the symptoms of heat-related illnesses.

OSHA provides some basic guidelines for preventing heat-related illness:

  • Drink water every 15 minutes, even if you are not thirsty
  • Rest in the shade to cool down
  • Wear a hat and light-colored clothing, if possible
  • Learn the signs of heat illness and what to do in case of emergency
  • Keep an eye on fellow workers
  • Build a tolerance to the heat by slowly increasing your workload.

One of the most important things we can do as employees is prepare ourselves the day/night before with proper hydration, so we can perform at a high-level the following day. We have to treat ourselves the same way athletes would before they compete because if we become dehydrated during the day it is almost impossible to get caught up, and that’s when a heat illness could occur.

Faith Technologies has participated in the OSHA Heat Illness Prevention Campaign, as well as communicated several heat-related tool box talks and other education materials to help provide our employees with the information they need to stay safe in the hot summer months.

Please continue to take care of yourself and watch out for your fellow employees during these hot summer months.