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Each year thousands of workers will succumb to the effects of heat related illnesses. The symptoms may be mild enough to go unreported or severe enough to result in death. Between 1999 and 2010 there were 8,081 heat related deaths reported in the United States. Many occurrences of heat related illness, such as heat stroke, heat exhaustion or rhabdomyolysis will demand medical attention. These unfortunate events can occur at the jobsite, threatening the well-being of our team members. Knowing that the threats of employee hospitalization and death cost employers and average of $42,000 and $1,220,000, respectively, it pays to invest in a solid prevention plan that ensures worker safety.
Nobody is immune to the physiological stress that accompanies working in a hot environment. Work settings that are outdoors, especially in hot and humid climates tend to have higher occurrences of heat related illness. Employees working near heat producing equipment or in settings with limited air circulation, such as laundry mats and kitchens, also experience increased heat exposure risks. The amount of physical exertion needed to perform job duties or the use of heavy protective equipment also contribute to an increased risk of heat related illness.
There is a drastic range in the severity of heat illnesses. Heat stroke being the most severe, manifesting in symptoms of confusion, loss of consciousness, possible seizure and demanding immediate medical attention. On the other end of the spectrum, heat rash is far less severe yet very common. To support organizations whose team members may be at risk of heat stress, we have developed a flyer on Signs and Responses to Heat Related Illnesses. Properly training all team members to know the warning signs of heat stress can prevent or eliminate heat illness occurrences. It is recommended that supervisors receive additional training and resources to help protect their team members. OSHA’s NIOSH Heat Safety Tool is an app developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is just one example of a resource that helps supervisors monitor conditions and maintain safety.
Employers can further protect their workforce by developing and following a heat acclimatization program for all new hires and employees returning from extended time away. Heat acclimatization is the process of the body becoming physiologically accustomed to performing normal functions while exposed to excessive heat. This process allows the body to maintain a state of homeostasis by altering its standard physiological responses. Changes to the body include the ability to begin sweating earlier and decreased depletion of electrolytes in sweat. Heat acclimatization needs vary between brand new employees and employees returning to work, a Worker Heat Acclimatization Schedule has been developed by SiteWell Solutions to support this process. It is important to note that factors such as age and level of physical conditioning can cause heat acclimatization to vary from person to person. Older individuals and those less physically conditioned are more susceptible to heat stress. Always closely monitor employees working in heat, provide plenty of cool water, shade, frequent rest breaks and have emergency response protocols in place.
Empowering workers with the knowledge and resources they need to prevent succumbing to heat illness is a major part of prevention. There are many things that team members can do, both on and off the clock, to safeguard their personal well-being. Educate workers on the value of proper sleep, hydration, limiting caffeine, not taking salt tablets, avoiding unhealthy foods, not over-indulging on electrolyte replacement drinks and always using a buddy system when working in heat. These tips and more are provided in the printer-friendly Employee Guide to Heat Illness Prevention pamphlet.
With summer approaching and National Heat Stroke Prevention Day on May 1st , there is no time like the present to prepare your organization for an incident-free summer season. For additional support including training, heat acclimatization support and workshops on heat illness awareness and prevention contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
SiteWell Solutions is committed to supporting business and organizations with health, wellness and injury prevention services. A healthy workforce is proven to be more engaged, productive and happier. It is our mission to deliver these outcomes to every organization we serve. Our services include onsite and virtual corporate wellness programs, industrial athlete training, injury prevention services, chronic disease management, employee resilience support services and much more. Contact email@example.com today to find out how we can optimize your organization.