3 ways to help your client beat workplace heat illness [Infographic]

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Protect clients and their employees from workplace heat illness

As summer temperatures rise, so will the risk of workplace heat illness. Last year most of the nation experienced extreme heat, and this summer will likely be no different. Now is a good time to remind your workers’ compensation clients to watch out for symptoms of heat stress and take preventative measures to protect their employees.

Related: How to curb on-the-job accidents with a workplace safety incentive program

At-risk employees

Employees at risk of heat illness include outdoor workers such as farmers or construction employees, as well as those in hot indoor environments such as firefighters, bakery workers, boiler room operators and factory workers. New employees, including temporary workers, employees returning after a week or more, and those starting new tasks in warm environments or facing significant weather changes are particularly vulnerable to heat illness. According to OSHA, 50%-70% of outdoor fatalities occur within the first few days of working in heat due to a lack of acclimatization.

Other employees at greater risk of workplace heat stress include those who are overweight or 65 years of age or older, have heart disease or high blood pressure, or take medications that may be affected by extreme heat.

Workplace heat illness: Know the signs

Whether it’s minor heat stress or a more severe heat stroke that results in a workers’ compensation claim, your clients should watch for the signs and know what to do.

Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness and requires immediate medical attention. It occurs when the body’s sweating mechanism fails and is unable to cool down, causing the body’s temperature to rise to dangerous levels within 10 to 15 minutes.

  • Symptoms: confusion, fainting, seizures, very high body temperature and hot, dry skin or profuse sweating.
  • First aid: CALL 911 if a coworker shows signs of heat stroke. Move the worker to a cooler area and remove outer clothing. Cool the worker quickly with wet cloths or by soaking their clothing with cold water. Focus on the worker’s head, neck, armpits and groin first, and circulate air around the worker to speed cooling.

Heat exhaustion is the body’s response to an excessive loss of water and salt, usually through excessive sweating.

  • Symptoms: headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness, thirst and heavy sweating.
  • First aid: Move the worker to a cooler area and give cool liquids to drink. Remove unnecessary clothing including shoes and socks. Use cold compresses or have him wash his head, face and neck with cold water. In extreme cases, take the worker to a clinic or emergency room for evaluation, or call 911.

Rhabdomyolysis is caused by heat stress and prolonged physical exertion, resulting in the rapid breakdown and death of a muscle. As muscle tissue dies, it can release harmful substances into the bloodstream that can cause irregular heartbeat and seizure or damage the kidneys.

  • Symptoms: Sometimes there are none. At other times, there will be muscle cramps and pain, weakness, abnormally dark urine.
  • First aid: Stop activity and drink water. Seek immediate care at the nearest medical facility, asking to be checked for rhabdomyolysis.

Heat syncope is a fainting or dizzy spell that usually occurs with prolonged standing or sudden rising from a sitting position.

  • Symptoms: Fainting, dizziness or light-headedness.
  • First aid: The worker should sit or lie down in a cool place and slowly drink water, clear juice or a sports drink.

Heat cramps typically affect workers who sweat a lot during strenuous activity, which depletes the body’s salt and moisture levels, causing the cramps.

  • Symptoms: Muscle cramps, spasms or pain in the abdomen, arms or legs.
  • First aid: Drink water and have a snack and/or a sports drink (carbohydrate-electrolyte replacement liquid) every 15-20 minutes. Do not take salt tablets. Get medical help if the worker has heart problems, is on a low-sodium diet or if cramps don’t subside within an hour.

Safety measures to prevent heat illness and work comp claims

Water, rest, shade: Remember these three words. Drinking water often, taking breaks and limiting time in the heat can help prevent both minor and severe heat illnesses.

Acclimatization: Gradually building up to heavy work in hot conditions is important because it helps workers, especially new or returning employees, build tolerance to the heat. Employers should take steps to help workers become acclimated by scheduling shorter work periods and allowing more frequent breaks during the first week of work.

Protective clothing and hydration: Workers should wear clothing that protects from the heat but allows airflow to the body. Head and eye protection should always be used outdoors. It’s also essential that workers drink water continually–at least 3-4 cups per hour–as the body can produce as much as 2-3 gallons of sweat a day.

Related: Tools & tips to prevent construction fall hazards

Enact a workplace heat illness prevention program

Prevention of heat stress in workers is crucial. Employers are responsible for making the work environment as safe as possible, as well as providing training so workers understand what heat stress is, how it affects their health and safety, and how it can be prevented. It’s a good idea to include advice from your workers’ compensation medical provider when creating a plan.

Related:  Avoid these top 7 workers’ compensation claim mistakes

A prevention plan should consider:

  • Identifying hot environments and conditions, whether indoors or outdoors, and checking weather conditions for high heat index
  • Modifying work schedules according to the heat, such as rescheduling non-essential outdoor work for cooler days, scheduling more physically demanding work during the coolest hours, rotating workers and increasing breaks during high heat
  • Ensuring work breaks and employee acclimatization to the heat, as well as providing drinking water and shade
  • Training employees and supervisors on prevention, symptoms and first aid, as well as emergency and response planning
  • Encouraging workers to watch out for symptoms in their coworkers by using the buddy system

To help you quickly understand the essential points of workplace heat illness prevention, we’ve included an infographic from EHS Daily Advisor summarizing the main takeaways below.

Preventing heat illness infographic

Agents, take a look at our Workers’ Compensation Program to add to your portfolio of insurance solutions.

(Note: This blogpost was originally published on our Arrowhead Tribal blog. Content has been modified and updated.)


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