By Associated Industries of Massachusetts
With summer approaching, employers should again turn their attention to managing work in the summer heat.
Although Massachusetts has guidelines on what it means to be too cold in the workplace, it does not define what is too hot. Employers are left to their own common sense and experience to determine what to do during the dog days.
According to the National Weather Service, heat is the number-one weather-related killer of people in the U.S. More people die per year from heat-related illness than from tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, and lightning combined. Heat waves occur across the U.S., but are often predicted in advance. Staying abreast of this information from the National Weather Service will allow you the opportunity to plan for the impact within your organization.
If you have a workplace that is open to the weather, such as a loading dock, a warehouse, a construction site, an outdoor deck or patio for food service, or even an outdoor exercise area or some other non-air-conditioned site, you need to watch for heat disorders.
Heat disorders generally come from the inability of the body to remove heat by sweating, or from too much sweating. When heat gain exceeds what the body can deal with, or when the body cannot compensate for fluids and salt lost through perspiration, the body’s inner core temperature begins to rise, and heat-related illness may develop.
Heat stroke is the most serious form of heat-related illness. It happens when the body becomes unable to regulate its core temperature. Sweating stops, and the body can no longer rid itself of excess heat. Signs include confusion; loss of consciousness; hot, dry skin; and seizures. Heat stroke is a medical emergency that may result in death. Call 911 immediately.
If heat stroke happens, the following steps may save a life: place the worker in a shady, cool area; loosen clothing; remove outer clothing; fan air on the worker; place cold packs in the armpits; wet the worker with cool water; apply ice packs, cool compresses, or ice if available; provide fluids (preferably water) as soon as possible; and stay with the worker until help arrives.
Other heat-related conditions that can affect workers include heat exhaustion, heat cramps, and heat rash.
No matter the situation, encourage your employees to adopt some of the following health tips to manage the heat. Education, planning, and reacting to the conditions will assure safety during the hot events of summer.
• Allow your employees to slow down. If possible, limit strenuous activities to the coolest time of the day, perhaps first thing in the morning or when the sun is not directly on your work site. Consider extending break periods or adding a break period to ease the heat risk during certain days.
• Dress appropriately for summer. Lightweight, light-colored clothing reflects heat and sunlight, and helps your body maintain normal temperatures.
• Encourage employees to drink plenty of water or other non-alcohol fluids even if they may not feel thirsty — their body needs water to keep cool. Consider purchasing bottles of water and sports drinks for the team to ensure hydration.
• Allow employees to spend as much time as possible in air-conditioned places. If the workplace doesn’t allow for AC, consider fans to keep the air circulating, and encourage employees to work in the shade if possible.
• Remind your employees that diet matters. The heavier the meal, the more a body works to digest it and the greater the water loss, causing a greater risk of heat problems.
Finally, make sure your employees watch out for one another. If they recognize a co-worker suffering with the heat, depending on the symptoms, urge them call 911, their supervisor, or human resources to get help.