Acclimation: Preventing Heat-Related Illnesses

heatMore than 40 percent of heat-related worker deaths occur in the construction industry. As always, prevention is the best way to ensure that workers stay safe during hot summer months. Although providing workers with water, rest and shade is common sense, the lesser known practice of acclimation is equally important. That is, managers should allow new or returning workers to gradually increase workloads and take more breaks as they acclimatize or build a tolerance for working in the heat. This is especially important for workers who have been away from work for a week or more or sudden spikes in the temperature.

Under OSHA law, employers are responsible for providing workplaces free of known safety hazards. This includes protecting workers from extreme heat. An employer with workers exposed to high temperatures should establish a complete heat illness prevention program. Managers can also time work-intensive jobs to the cooler parts of the day and allow for shorter shifts during the hottest hours. It is also important to note that hydration is more effective when water is drunk frequently in small quantities.

Heat-related illnesses can take a number of forms, including:

Heat stroke, the most serious form of heat-related illness, happens when the body becomes unable to regulate its core temperature. Sweating stops and the body can no longer rid itself of excess heat. Signs include confusion, loss of consciousness, and seizures. Heat stroke is a medical emergency that is life-threatening and 991 should be called.

Heat exhaustion is the body’s response to loss of water and salt from heavy sweating. Signs include headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, irritability, thirst, and heavy sweating.

Heat cramps are caused by the loss of body salts and fluid during sweating. Low salt levels in muscles cause painful cramps. Tired muscles—those used for performing the work—are usually the ones most affected by cramps. Cramps may occur during or after working hours.

Heat rash, also known as prickly heat, is skin irritation caused by sweat that does not evaporate from the skin. Heat rash is the most common problem in hot work environments.

Keeping a close eye on workers who are subject to extreme temperatures is a key function for construction managers. Remembering the mantra of water, rest, shade is a good start. For these and other safety information, contact our offices at Diversified Safety Services.


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