What to do when the job becomes too hot to handle

It’s one of the most enjoyable times of the year—but it can also be the deadliest. For those who work outside, whether in construction, landscaping, agriculture, utilities, or other professions, summertime presents unique and dangerous risks that you, as a business owner, need to be aware of and do your best to prevent. Even when there’s work that must be done outdoors, there are certain precautions you can take to ensure that your team stays safe and healthy. Here’s a look at the potential risks and how you can mitigate them:

They can’t take the heat!

While the human body is capable of cooling itself by sweating, the reality is, sometimes this doesn’t suffice and the risk of heat stroke and other heat-related illnesses rises dramatically. During the summer months, when the temperature can reach in excess of 100°, body temperatures also rise and if your workers aren’t taking the right actions to cool themselves off, the results could be fatal. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), 2630 workers suffered from heat illness and 18 died from heat stroke and other related causes in 2014. And these are just the cases that were reported—many heat-related incidents are not publicized.

A hot mess

Most of us have heard of heat stroke, yet many people don’t really know how to spot it or how it differs from other, similar illnesses. And while any condition that is caused by exposure to extreme heat is dangerous, there are differences:

Heat Stroke

Heat Stroke is the most severe of the heat-related illnesses and can be a life-threatening emergency.  When one of your workers is experiencing heat stroke, their body has stopped cooling itself off and their temperature rises to a dangerously high level. It can cause damage to their heart, lungs, liver, brain, and kidneys. This condition can occur rather quickly and the symptoms include:

  • Flushed red, hot, and dry skin
  • Decreased sweating
  • A dangerously high body temperature (104+)
  • Confusion or a change in behavior
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Rapid breathing
  • Rapid, racing heart rate
  • Headache
  • Losing consciousness
  • Seizures

Heat Exhaustion

Although heat exhaustion is less serious, it can quickly turn into heat stroke if left untreated. The symptoms are:

  • A feeling of weakness or being over-tired
  • Dizziness
  • Pale skin
  • A decrease in blood pressure
  • Headaches and muscle cramps
  • Intense sweating
  • Extreme thirst
  • Rapid pulse
  • A decrease in and abnormally dark urine

How you can protect your team

Whether the work is outside in the blazing sun or inside a hot kitchen or factory, as a business owner, it’s your duty to make sure that everyone on your team is safe from the hazards of excessive heat. And under OSHA law you’re required to ensure that your workplace is safe. Things you should do include:

  • Make sure your workers have shade or an area indoors designated for them to cool off
  • Insist on light-colored and loose-fitting clothing and hats (not visors)
  • Supply ample cold drinking water for all team members
  • Give new workers time to adjust to the heat by starting off with shorter shifts and gradually increasing their time in the workplace (whether inside or out)
  • Be watchful of workers and have a monitoring system in place to spot illness
  • Have an emergency system in place and make sure all team members are trained on what to do

What to do in the event of an emergency.

If one of your workers appears to be experiencing any of the symptoms of heat stroke or heat exhaustion, the key is to react quickly. It’s important to make sure that your supervisors or managers are aware of all the signs and to keep an eye on their team—especially during July and August when

the temperatures are usually at their peak. Actions to take include:

  • Get them inside immediately
  • Have them lie down in the coolest place that is accessible
  • Remove their shirt and any other unnecessary clothing so the body can be exposed to the cooler air
  • Ice or put cool compresses on their neck, in their armpits, or, if possible, lay a wet bed sheet over their body
  • Give them cold water or a sports drink that will replace lost electrolytes
  • Stay close until you see signs of improvement (normal recovery from exhaustion takes about a half an hour)

When to call 911

Time is of the essence in the event that your worker is not showing signs of improvement within 30 minutes or has lost consciousness. In this case, they are likely suffering from heat stroke and need medical attention right away. If that happens, call for emergency assistance and be sure to stay with them until help arrives.

Everyone on your team deserves to be safe, even during the hottest months of the year. Make sure that you take every precaution to ensure that no one becomes a victim of heat stroke or heat exhaustion.

And if you’re in need of a worker’s compensation policy for your company, or any other insurance product, give us a call at 305-648-7070 or fill out our online contact form. And sign up for our newsletter to get industry information, news, and updates.