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Responding is Adria Hardy, product manager, Ergodyne, St. Paul, MN.
Heat-related illnesses and heat stress are umbrella terms for a variety of conditions resulting from physical activity in hot or humid environments. HRIs include heat rash, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
The best prevention strategy is to have one. Planning and preparedness are no longer luxuries, but necessities, when it comes to HRI prevention. Depending on the specific work environment, prevention plans can vary slightly. Employers should adhere to NIOSH’s Hierarchy of Controls starting with elimination, then moving to substitution, engineering, administrative controls and personal protective equipment. Ideally, the cause of heat can be eliminated or substituted. However, when high-heat environments are unavoidable, it is critical that employers take preventive action to minimize contact with excess heat, beginning with these interventions:
- For outdoor work, provide shelters for shade in close proximity to work areas with hydration stations and seating for workers.
- For indoor work environments, install air conditioning whenever possible to keep temperatures in check, and use fans to provide airflow and ventilation.
- Train and educate workers and supervisors on risk factors and early warning signs of HRI.
- Provide cool drinking water in close proximity to work areas – at least 1 quart per worker per hour.
- Promote hydration before feeling thirsty.
- Monitor temperature and humidity levels near work areas.
- Implement a heat management program with action levels and emergency procedures.
Enforce best work practices, including:
- Work cycles to limit time spent in hot work areas and allow breaks in shaded rest areas
- Frequent breaks for new workers to help acclimate them to hot or humid environments
- A buddy system to monitor worker conditions
- Wear broad-brimmed hats and lightweight clothing to reduce direct sun exposure.
- Wear absorptive or evaporative cooling clothing or accessories to aid in keeping core body temperatures in check.
- Wear lightweight, fast-drying clothes that remove sweat. Sweat adds an insulating layer and causes the body to work even harder to stay cool.
- Use cooling vests, especially under heavy protective gear or full-enclosure suits, to help keep overall body temperature at a more moderate level.
HRI is a serious issue on jobsites all over the world – but the good news is that it is 100 percent preventable. Following the Hierarchy of Controls will ensure a safer, more productive workplace. That includes providing proper training, facilities, equipment and administrative standard operating procedures for HRIs; being aware of the early warning signs; and following steps to minimize workplace risks. Together, these are key components to keeping productivity thriving and safety the No. 1 priority.
Editor’s Note: This article represents the independent views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.