As temperatures heat up across the country this week, it’s a good time to review guidelines for preventing heat stress in the workplace. Heat stress is the body’s inability to cool itself resulting in rising body temperature. Heat stress can manifest in heat rash, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. When these occur, it may be necessary to seek medical attention, but often can be prevented by following these tips:
1. Seek shade. When working outside, resting in the shade or in air conditioning will cool your body temperature. As the heat rises above 80 degrees, getting out of the sun becomes even more important.
2. Stay hydrated. Drinking water is critical when working in heat as you won’t feel thirsty until you’ve lost 1-2% of your body’s fluids, making it hard to catch up. The body can lose up to 1 liter per hour in sweat which means you need to be drinking a cup of water every 15 minutes to stay hydrated. Avoid caffeine and alcohol which promote dehydration.
3. Take breaks. Rest breaks of at least five minutes should be taken to allow the body to cool down when working in heat. Your employer may monitor you during this time for any heat stress symptoms before returning to work. When working in heat above 95 degrees, rest ten minutes every two hours.
4. Dress appropriately. Protect yourself from the sun by wearing sunglasses, a hat with a brim, and sunscreen (reapplying often). Wear loose-fitting, lightweight, light-colored clothing made from natural materials such as cotton so the skin can breathe. Long pants and long sleeves will protect your skin from the sun.
5. Avoid strenuous tasks. Physical exertion will increase your body temperature when working in the heat. Instead work in cooler times of the day and avoid additional heat from working near machinery, when possible. It is also helpful to allow yourself to acclimatize to the heat by beginning tasks slowly and building up a tolerance to the heat.
Working outside in the summer does not have to be a recipe for heat stress if you take precautions to prevent dehydration and exhaustion.
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By Stacey Wagner