People who work outdoors in professions like construction or utilities face a more dangerous job than most. When weather conditions are extreme, these risks go up further. We often think about extreme weather like storms or snow, but high summer temperatures can be among the deadliest weather conditions.
If you work outside some or all of the time, the following is a guide to stay safe when the temperatures rise.
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Know the Risks of Extreme Heat
We often think about the summer and warm weather months as perfect for outdoor activities. In reality, extreme heat and humidity can lead to illnesses and death.
You can suffer from heat-related illness when your body can’t cool itself properly.
Older people, children, and individuals with chronic health conditions are more at risk of heat-related illness and death.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 700 people die due to extreme heat in the U.S. every year.
Warmer temperatures can also mean that ozone levels are higher, so if someone has asthma or lung disease, they should be mindful of this.
There are three main types of heat-related illnesses.
- Heat cramps are a mild form of heat illness. As the name indicates, heat cramps are painful cramps and spasms that happen during or after intense periods of physical activity and sweating when temperatures are high.
- Heat exhaustion is more severe than heat cramps, and it comes from a loss of water and salt in your body. When you sweat a lot during outdoor activity or work, your body can’t cool itself properly.
- The most serious type of illness related to high temperatures is heatstroke. Heatstroke happens when your body’s heat regulation system is overwhelmed by the temperatures. Heatstroke is considered an emergency, and a life-threatening one, requiring immediate attention from a medical professional. Signs of heatstroke include fever, nausea and vomiting, fatigue, confusion, lethargy, and stupor. Warm, dry skin and high fever can also be signs of a heat stroke.
Dehydration can also be something outdoor workers need to think about in the summer months, particularly if they’re sweating a lot.
Dehydration can happen when you lose more fluids than you’re taking in. Your body then doesn’t have enough water and fluids to do its normal functions. Without replacing lost fluids, you become dehydrated.
The risk of dehydration can be highest in older adults, who naturally have less water volume in their bodies and may also have medical conditions that increase the risk. Even a minor illness can cause dehydration in an older person.
Signs of dehydration in adults include significant thirst and less frequent urination, as well as dark-colored urine. Dizziness, fatigue, and confusion are also signs of dehydration.
Below, we cover some health and safety tips every outside worker should know this summer.
One of the most important things to protect yourself and the people you work with is to be aware. This means being aware of the weather forecast and the temperatures. You should also understand the signs that you could be experiencing a heat-related illness or that someone around you could be.
If you’re a supervisor, you should instruct your workers to check on one another throughout the day when there’s a high heat index.
Employers should provide reminders about heat illnesses at the start of every shift, as well as for instructions on where supplies and rest areas are located.
Get Plenty of Water
OSHA recommends employers monitor the fluid intake of employees since heat and intense labor can quickly lead to dehydration.
You should try to have at least four eight-ounce glasses or bottles of water an hour and no more than six per hour. The total you should aim for each day is 12 quarts.
Some beverages can actually contribute to dehydration rather than help, including coffee and tea, as well as sodas.
As far as sports drinks and electrolytes, only have those when you’re doing very physical labor that leads to sweat quite a bit.
Before you work in the heat, it’s better to have plain water rather than a sports drink. Even after strenuous activity in the summer sun, you should try to rehydrate yourself primarily with water.
If you have a tough time with plain water, you can infuse it with fresh fruits and vegetables to give it some flavor.
Use the Heat Safety App
The Heat Safety Tool is an app that’s free, and it provides a real-time measure of the heat index. The heat index is how the temperature feels when you’re experiencing it.
Employers should check this every day to make sure they’re keeping their workers safe, and you should encourage your workers to check it on their own as well.
The app also provides recommendations based on the particular heat index at any given time and includes signs and symptoms of heat-related illness.
Avoid Heat-Trapping Clothing
Dress for the weather, and avoid anything that’s waterproof because it can trap heat and sweat. Choose items that are loose-fitting and lightweight whenever you can, as well as breathable. Bring a spare shirt with you on hot days to replace if your original shirt becomes too wet with sweat.
You might also invest in cooling gear like a gel-fitted neck scarf or a cooling vest.
We’re still in spring, so you have time to acclimate to rising temperatures. Don’t jump into things too quickly when it gets very hot out. Adjust to working in the heat and take frequent breaks.
Talk to your employer about shifting your work schedule to accommodate the temperature. For example, during the peak hours of heat, take more breaks in air-conditioned or shaded areas.
Keeping yourself safe no matter the conditions is essential as an outdoor worker. Don’t push yourself when the temperatures are extreme, and look out for your employees or co-workers as well. If you don’t feel well in the hot sun, take a break and assess any symptoms you might be experiencing.