Each year we have a number of heat related incidents in our Central Valley workforce that claim the lives of our coworkers, friends and family members. The worse part is that this is preventable. So if we as employers and employees know this, then why does it continue to happen? OSHA and CalOSHA seem to think it stems from 3 key points, Employer/Employee training, Lack of prevention and lack of understanding the signs and symptoms for early treatment. This is why we have seen an ever increasing presence in our Central Valley over the past 10 years. OSHA considers the top 3 high risk industries for Heat Illness, Agriculture, Construction, and General industry, which is why the microscope has been placed specifically on these industries in recent years.According to the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment of California (OEHHA), we have seen a decrease in fatal heat illness incidents in the state since 2006. In fact, 2006 was a record high due to a severe heat wave which claimed the lives of over 140 people. So the key questions are how do we prevent this and how do we treat the symptoms once we recognize them?
Lets take care of the regulation first. CalOSHA has a standard for Heat Illness Prevention that is even industry specific. A simple web browser search will allow you to find this regulation and give you all the details and resources you need for a successful and compliant Heat Illness Prevention Plan. The CalOsha regulation §3395 Heat Illness Prevention will advise you how to define cool drinking water, proper shade requirements depending on the temperature as well as the fact that all employees and supervisors are required to be trained to this standard before they are to work in an environment that has the potential risk for exposure to heat illness. With all of this said, let’s focus on the prevention side first.
Key Tips to protect your health when temperatures are high:
Drink Plenty of Fluid -Increase your fluid intake regardless of your activity level. During heavy exercise in hot weather, drink 2-4 glasses (16-32 ounces) of cool fluids each hour. Consult with your doctor if you have been prescribed a fluid-restricted diet or diuretics. During hot weather, you will need to drink more liquid than your thirst indicates. This is especially true for those over 65 years of age. Avoid very cold beverages to prevent stomach cramps, energy drinks or drinks containing alcohol, which will actually cause you to lose more fluid.
Replace Salt and Minerals -Heavy sweating removes salt and minerals from the body, which are necessary for your body and must be replaced. The best way to replace salt and minerals is to drink fruit juice or a sports beverage during exercise or any work in the heat. Do not take salt tablets unless directed by your doctor.
Wear Appropriate Clothing and Sunscreen -Wear as little clothing as possible when you are at home. Choose lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing. In the hot sun, a wide-brimmed hat will keep the head cool. Sunburn affects your body’s ability to cool itself and causes a loss of body fluids. It also causes pain and damages the skin. A variety of sunscreens are available to reduce the risk of sunburn. Check the sun protection factor (SPF) number on the label of the sunscreen container. Select SPF 15 or higher and follow package directions.
Pace Yourself-If you are unaccustomed to working or exercising in hot weather, start slowly and pick up the pace gradually. If exertion in the heat makes your heart pound and leaves you gasping for breath, stop all activity, get into a cool or shady area, and rest, especially if you become lightheaded, confused, weak, or feel faint.
Schedule Outdoor Activities Carefully -If you must be out in the heat, plan your activities so that you are outdoors either before noon or in the evening. While outdoors, rest frequently in a shady area.
Use a Buddy System – When working in the heat, monitor the condition of your coworkers and have someone do the same for you. If you are 65 years of age or older, have a friend or relative call to check on you twice a day during a heat wave. If you know anyone in this age group, check on them at least twice a day.
Monitor Those at High Risk -Those at greatest risk of heat-related illness include: people who overexert during work or exercise; people 65 years of age or older; people who are ill or on certain medications; and people who are overweight.
If you or someone you know is at higher risk, it is important to drink plenty of fluids; avoid overexertion; and get your doctor or pharmacist’s advice.
Adjust to the Environment -Be aware that any sudden change in temperature, such as an early summer heat wave, will be stressful to your body. You will have a greater tolerance for the heat if you limit your physical activity until you become accustomed to the heat. It typically takes the average person 11-14 days for the body to acclimate to extreme temperatures.
If you have not done a good job of preparing and preventing, then you may witness or experience signs of Heat Exhaustion or worse, Heat Stroke. The following is a great tool so that you can recognize the symptoms as well know how to properly treat for these life threatening heat related illnesses.
Keep in mind that if you experience either Heat Exhaustion or Heat Stroke that you should notify someone immediately and typically, neither of these cases would allow you to return to outdoor work for up to 72 hours or more. Please consult your local physician on further treatment and releasing back to work.
Keep in mind that OSHA and CalOSHA are always updating regulations on a regular basis. Therefore, its best to visit your program annually and even better to have a outside set of eyes audit your existing program to ensure you are doing everything possible to prevent Heat Illness in your workplace.
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