Originally created by the Minnesota Safety Council for publication in the Minnesota
Counties Insurance Trust publication The Safeguard. Used with permission.
Although our summer season is short, we still suffer many hot humid days. Learn how to protect workers from the special risks of heat related illnesses.
People suffer heat-related illnesses when the body's temperature control system is overloaded. The body normally cools itself by sweating. But under some conditions, sweating just isn't enough. In such cases, a person's body temperature rises rapidly.
Heat-related illnesses can include:
Heat Fatigue: Victims may feel uncomfortable, crabby, confused, tired and experience headaches.
Heat Swelling: Mild swelling of the hands, feet or ankles.
Heat Rash: An itchy rash that develops on skin moist from sweating.
Heat Cramps: Sudden, painful muscle spasms affecting legs, arms or stomach muscles.
Heat Exhaustion: Heavy sweating, headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea and vomiting.
Heatstroke: This is the most serious heat-related illness. Signs are hot skin, high body temperature, confusion, strange behavior, seizures, quick breathing and pulse, and unconsciousness.
Unintentional injuries also rise with the mercury. Slippery, sweaty palms, dizziness, foggy safety glasses—all can add risk to any work situation.
In addition, working in a hot environment lowers mental alertness and physical performance. Increases body temperature and physical discomfort promote irritability, anger, and other emotional states which can cause workers to overlook safety procedures or to divert attention form hazardous tasks.
Beat the Heat
On the first day of work in a hot environment, body temperature, pulse rate and general discomfort will be higher. With each succeeding daily exposure, all of these responses will gradually decrease, while the sweat rate will increase. When the body becomes acclimated to the heat, the worker will find it easier to perform work with less strain and less distress.
Don't overlook the old Boy Scout motto: "be prepared" for work in a hot zone. Provide cool rest areas, work-rest cycles, and adequate drinking water. Workers who take prescription medication should check with their doctors about any possible adverse reactions to heat or sunlight. Have co-workers monitor each other when working in the heat. Heat-induced illness can cause a person to become confused.
Make sure workers receive first aid training for summertime's special heat-related problems. For the milder forms of heat-related illness, first aid includes cool beverages, rest, cool compresses (but not for heat rash&mdashkeep skin clean and dry), a cool shower or bath, or an air-conditioned environment. Seek medical attention if symptoms worsen or last longer than an hour. Always get medical attention for heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
The best defense is prevention. Making simple changes in fluid intake, activities and clothing during hot weather can help workers remain safe and healthy.
Proper Sun Dress
Summertime hazards of heat, sun and ultra-violet (UV) radiation require personal protective equipment. Workers should:
Many outdoor jobs require additional specialized clothing, for example:
- Apply sunscreen to all parts of the body not covered by clothing. Reapply every two hours and after heavy perspiration. Sunscreens do wear off.
- Wear sunglasses
- If possible, wear light-colored, loosely woven cotton clothing. The light color reflects the sun and the natural fabric allows for air circulation. Many garments now carry ratings, which indicate the degree to which they help reduce UV radiation exposure to the skin beneath the garment.
- Wear a wide brimmed hat to deflect the sun's rays.
Tick, Tick, Tick
- Coveralls, chemical resistant gloves and boots for spraying pesticides or handling chemicals.
- Special pants or chaps of hard-to-cut materials when using a chain saw.
- Safety glasses, goggles or a face shield provide increasing levels of protection from flying debris produced by power equipment, handling chemicals, spraying, and dusty conditions.
- Respirators or masks can filter out harmful particles and irritants, including pesticides. Make sure the respirator is approved for the hazard encountered.
- Ear plugs or muffs can protect against the damaging noise levels of power machinery.
- Leather gloves and work boots offer protection against cuts, burns and heavy objects.
The hazards from a few tiny bugs can last beyond a Minnesota summer. Lyme disease, caused by the bite of an infected deer tick, may affect the skin, joints, nervous system, heart and more. Not all deer ticks carry the bacteria. However, if a deer tick is infected it must be attached for at least 24 hours before it can transmit the bacteria.
Deer ticks prefer dense, mature woods with a thick undergrowth. They are also found where woods meet lawns or fields. If workers have one or more of these symptoms 3 to 30 days after a tick bite, they should see a physician:
To reduce the chances of attracting ticks, workers should:
- Bull's eye rash
- Fever and chills
- Muscle and joint pain
Power Tools Can Cause Powerful Injuries
- Walk in the center of trails to avoid picking up ticks form grass and brush.
- Wear light-colored clothes so ticks are Visible.
- Create a barrier to ticks by wearing a long-sleeved shirt, tucking the shirt into the pants and pants into socks or boots. Tape the area where pants and socks meet. Treat cloths with insect repellant containing DEET or with permethrin.
- After being outdoors in tick habitat, do a complete body check, shower and vigorously towel dry. Wash and dry clothes at a high temperature.
Persons using outdoor equipment should think safety first.
- Know the equipment and safety procedures. Do a quick refresher if the equipment hasn't been used. Make sure safety devices on equipment are in place and functioning properly before starting.
- Unplug tools and disconnect spark plug wires before making adjustments or cleaning jams on moving parts.
- Handle gas carefully. Don't fill tanks while machinery is on or equipment is still hot.
- Don't work with power tools in wet damp conditions. Use GFCI plugs.
- Make sure extension cords are in good condition and rated for outdoor use.