Protecting Your Workers from the Heat

Date: June 07, 2024

Summer is here and the temperature is rising! Small business owners, while focusing on so many other challenges and opportunities brought on by the summer season, may not consider the risk of heat stroke, particularly for those who engage in manual labor. Whether your team consistently works outdoors, in a sweltering machine shop, or even occasionally unloads trucks under the beating sun, the dangers of heat-related illness are always present. Ensuring your worker’s safety not only promotes and ensures a healthy work environment but can also enhance the productivity and morale of your employees. This summer, be proactive and start implementing measures and practices that mitigate the risk of heat stroke and other related illnesses.

What is Heat Stroke?

Heat stroke is a severe heat-related illness that occurs when your body is unable to regulate its own temperature, and ultimately overheats. Typical cases of heat stroke are often a result of prolonged exposure to high temperatures, and/or physical exertion in hot environments. Symptoms of heat stroke should be taken seriously as heat stroke can cause damage to the brain and other vital organs if not treated promptly.

What are the Signs of Heat Stroke?

An individual experiencing a heat stroke may exhibit the following symptoms:

  1. High body temperature
  • A telltale sign is a core body temperature of over °140 F
  1. Altered Mental State or Behavior including,
  • Confusion
  • Agitation
  • Slurred Speech; and
  • Delirium
  1. Nasuea and/or vomiting
  2. Flushed Skin
  3. Rapid breathing or heart rate
  4. Headache
Who is at Risk?

Individuals over the age of 65 are most susceptible to heat stroke, but those with chronic illnesses like heart or lung disease, obesity, or any other condition that thwarts the body’s ability to regulate temperature, are at risk. Other increased risk factors include taking certain medications that affect the body’s ability to stay hydrated, or being dehydrated in general.

Treatment and Immediate Actions

If you suspect one of your employees is suffering from heat stroke, you should immediately call 911 or your local emergency services.

While you are waiting for EMS to arrive, move the individual to a cool, shaded, or air-conditioned environment to begin to cool them down. To cool someone down you must,

  • Remove excess clothing;
  • Immerse them into a tub of cool or ice water (use cool sponges, rags or spray them down if a tub is not available);
  • Apply ice packs; and
  • Hydrate cautiously (do not force fluids if individual is unconscious or vomiting)

Once EMS arrive, it is imperative to provide them with all relevant information, including symptoms and other important details, and then defer care to them.

How Can I be Prepared as an Employer?

The best treatment for heat stroke is prevention. One way to prevent occurrences of heat stroke is to train and educate your workers on the signs and symptoms of heat stroke. It’s critical that your workers have adequate access to hydration as well. You can implement an emergency response plan, and have tools on hand like misting fans and cooling vests. On particularly hot workdays, you can also implement more frequent breaks, or schedule manual labor hours earlier or later in the day if possible.

Overall, allowing your employees to work as comfortably as possible in the heat can maintain a higher level of morale, and avoid serious health consequences for your workers, as well as interruptions to your business.

If you have additional questions on preventing heat stroke and other risks for your workers, you can review OSHA’s Heat Stress Guide or email [email protected].

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