Summer is here—and so is the heat. With sky-high temperatures and humidity levels, working outdoors and even indoors can be dangerous and even life-threatening to workers. Heat also has a variety of indirect adverse effects, including equipment failures, shut-downs and worker distraction.
But your productivity doesn’t have to a take a nose-dive during the summer months. Warmer weather actually creates a great environment for heavy work, as long as you manage the dangers appropriately. Following are a few important hazards to be aware of—and ways you can make protecting your workers in extreme heat easy.
Exposure to heat can cause a variety of conditions, the most common of which is heat exhaustion. Symptoms include headaches, dizziness, weakness, irritability and thirst, nausea and vomiting. Workers showing signs of exhaustion should be immediately transported to a clinic or emergency room for evaluation, and someone should watch the affected worker until care is provided. In the meantime, exhausted employees should consume plenty of water, remove unnecessary, bulky clothes and use cold compression on their heads, necks and faces.
Stroke is the most severe heat-related illness, and it’s one of the three leading causes of sudden death among athletes. Given the rigors of some summertime jobs, your workers may face the same risks. Heat stroke occurs at internal temperatures of about 104 degrees, which can cause cellular damage and shutdown of the body’s temperature-regulating systems. In all cases, heat stroke is a medical emergency that may result in rapid death. Some symptoms overlap with heat exhaustion, and others include seizures, severe high temperatures and loss of consciousness. If you ever suspect a worker is suffering from a heat stroke, call 911 to get immediate emergency assistance.
The body needs sodium and other electrolytes to function properly, but in hot, sweaty conditions, workers can easily run low on salt. Coupled with hard, heavy labor, a low electrolyte balance will cause painful muscle cramps, dehydration and even muscle pulls and tears. The best way for workers to avoid these symptoms is to replace both fluids and electrolytes with plenty of water, sports drinks and snacks.
One of the best ways to prevent these and other heat-related conditions is to train both workers and supervisors on the hazards they face. Hardworking employees may be slow to recognize and address uncomfortable symptoms, but education will go a long way in encouraging safe habits. To manage your employees’ training, implement a training management system to effectively keep track of due dates, completion rates and the need for training and retraining.
It’s not enough to tell workers what they should be doing to avoid heat illnesses. To ensure a safe, productive work environment throughout the summer, your company needs to be proactive in providing worksites that keep your employees healthy. Provide cool water, shade and air-conditioned break rooms where possible. Reflective safety vests and durable, lightweight protective equipment also will reduce the impact of heat throughout long workdays.
Finally, make summer safety mandatory by updating your policies and procedures. Working methods that make sense for the fall and spring might not be appropriate during the warmer months, and you need to put the new policies in writing. The easiest way to do that is to keep track of updated policies in an organized, central location that all your employees can access. BasicSafe’s Policies and Procedures Management Software offers just that. Efficiently manage and update your summertime procedures.