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As summer heads into the “dog days” — with prolonged high temperatures and unrelenting sun — businesses need to protect their workers. Heat illness can cause permanent injury to people and can put employers at risk of liability if they don’t take steps to prevent it.
The key to preventing heat-related injuries can be reduced to three simple words: Water, rest, and shade.
Materials Handling and Heat
While about 40 percent of heat-related worker deaths occur in the construction industry, employees working in the materials handling industry are also at risk of heat illness. Moving products on and off trucks, into and out of storage facilities, and even on the open road can expose workers to dangerously high temperatures.
You don’t have to be old and out of shape to be affected by high heat. Anybody can become a victim of heat illness, regardless of their age or physical condition. All it takes is prolonged exposure to high temperatures without doing anything to mitigate the risks.
Both employers and their workers have a responsibility to helping prevent heat illness. Workers need to be aware of their environment and to take special care when it’s hot.
They can pay attention to the weather forecast and not wear heavy clothes when it’s going to be hot, for example. Or they can let their supervisor know when their worker conditions are getting too warm so that they can drink more water and take more frequent breaks.
Employers can provide workers with cool water throughout their shift. You don’t have to wait until the mercury rises to the point where conditions are uncomfortable. It’s a good idea to have chilled bottled water or access to cold tap water available at all times.
Working in Warm Weather Conditions
People are able to work more productively in hot conditions if they allow themselves to become acclimated to higher temperatures. When the weather gets really hot, reduce workloads and increase breaks. Gradually increase the length of time between breaks as workers become more acclimatized and build a tolerance for working in the heat.
It’s important, however, to pay attention to workers so you can watch for signs of heat illness. Heat cramps, rashes, and exhaustion can indicate that a worker is suffering from heat illness. Take them out of the hot conditions and cool them down immediately to prevent their condition from escalating to heat stroke.
If conditions worsen or the person remains uncomfortable due to the heat, call 9-1-1 and seek emergency medical treatment.
In the hottest weeks of summer, everybody has to be aware of the dangers of heat illness.