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Heat and Hydration: How You Can Prevent Heat Illness

- June 23, 2017 by Paula Tetrault (View all posts by Paula)

Summer is here and as temperatures rise, we all start thinking about heat and hydration. But it’s really something we should keep in mind every day! The average field, construction or factory worker finds nothing rewarding about becoming dehydrated and overheated at work; however, it is a common and sometimes unavoidable hazard.

What accommodations can you make to help your employees from becoming dehydrated, over-heated and potentially suffering from heat exhaustion? I’ve listed a few below, but if you have any other suggestions, please submit a comment with your ideas.

    •  Add extra breaks into the day. As the heat index rises, increase rest periods and designate a knowledgeable person (well-informed on heat-related illness) at the worksite to determine appropriate work/rest schedules.
    • Reduce work load and pace strenuous work tasks. Remind workers to drink plenty of water every 15 to 20 minutes.
    • Provide water or sports drinks. Discourage drinks with caffeine and high sugar content.
    • Place water where your employees are working (as long as you can keep it in a safe place away from contaminants). This way, your employees are more likely to take a drink before they feel thirsty.
    • Analyze the dress code required for your staff. If wearing shorts and short sleeve shirts does not create a safety hazard, encourage this type of dress. Perhaps a lighter material uniform is possible.
    • Add cooling units or fans to your facility. Keep windows and doors open for ventilation.
    • Provide personal cooling gear to employees such as neck cooling pads or pads for under a hard hat.
    • Change the work shift by starting earlier and ending earlier or change the production schedule to perform the hotter jobs in the morning or on second or third shift.
    • Ensure that adequate medical services are available. Where medical services (e.g., emergency medical services, clinic, hospital) are not available within 3-4 minutes, have appropriately trained personnel and adequate medical supplies on site. The trained personnel should have a valid certificate in first aid training from the American Red Cross or equivalent training.
    • Instruct supervisors to watch workers for signs of heat-related illness. Supervisors should be trained in the signs of heat related illness, the importance of making use of water and shade, extra breaks during days with high heat index levels.
    • Allow your employees a chance to acclimate to the heat.
    • Watch new employees carefully to make sure they can handle the heat since they will not be as used to the conditions as an experienced employee. According to the United States Army training guide for Army Rangers, it can take two weeks to acclimatize to hot conditions (one week for the extremely physically fit) so if your employees are not at Army Ranger fitness level, it could take even longer. Remember a quick change in weather conditions is worse than a continuing desert heat wave.
    • As a risk management professional, I conduct surveys on production floors and construction sites throughout the year. During the summer, I’m often told “You should have been here yesterday, you would have melted!” or “Good thing you’re here in the morning, you wouldn’t want to be here any later!” While I’m thankful that my luck seems to keep me in the office on the 100+ degree days, but we can’t rely on luck to keep employees cool during a heat wave.