SAFETY SOLUTIONS: Summer is Here
The snow shovels have been put away in most parts
of the country, winter clothing has been put into
storage, flowers are in bloom and schools are
closed for the summer. What do these all these events
have in common? Summer is here and we should take
safety a little more seriously, since there are new hazards
to be found at work and also in the home.
Let’s start at work; I have toured several facilities recently
and many of these industrial plants are letting people
wear shorts and work around machinery, chemicals and
other hazards. Good idea? No – believe it or not, long
pants and proper attire function as a piece of personal
OSHA requires that each place of employment conduct
an area specific survey conducted by a competent person.
This person will then prepare a written report that identifies
what personal protective equipment and especially
clothing needs to be worn throughout your plant. Have
you done yours?
What about workers or family members working in the
summer heat? When I was a compliance officer, one of my
investigations was to conduct a fatality investigation
where a young man of age 18 died on the job. Another
item that recently made the papers was the death of a
Viking’s football player. Cause of both of these deaths?
The following information can help you on the job and
also at home now that summer is rearing its head. Know
the specific signs of heat stress related problems:
OSHA Fact Sheet No. OSHA 95-16 states the following:
Protecting Workers In Hot
Many workers spend some part of their working day in
a hot environment. Workers in foundries, laundries, construction
projects, and bakeries — to name a few industries
— often face hot conditions which pose special hazards
to safety and health.
Heat Stress Causes Body Reactions
Four environmental factors affect the amount of stress
a worker faces in a hot work area: temperature, humidity,
radiant heat (such as from the sun or a furnace) and air
velocity. Perhaps most important to the level of stress an
individual faces are personal characteristics such as age,
weight, fitness, medical condition and acclimatization to
The body reacts to high external temperature by circulating
blood to the skin which increases skin temperature
and allows the body to give off its excess heat through the
skin. However, if the muscles are being used for physical
labor, less blood is available to flow to the skin and
release the heat.
Sweating is another means the body uses to maintain a
stable internal body temperature in the face of heat.
However, sweating is effective only if the humidity level is
low enough to permit evaporation and if the fluids and
salts lost are adequately replaced.
Of course there are many steps a person might choose
to take to reduce the risk of heat stress, such as moving
to a cooler place, reducing the work pace or load, or
removing or loosening some clothing. But if the body cannot
dispose of excess heat, it will store it. When this hap-pens,
the body’s core temperature rises and the heart
rate increases. As the body continues to store heat, the
individual begins to lose concentration and has difficulty
focusing on a task, may become irritable or sick and often
loses the desire to drink. The next stage is most often
fainting and death is possible if the person is not removed
from the heat stress.
Heat stroke, the most serious health problem for workers
in hot environments, is caused by the failure of the
body’s internal mechanism to regulate its core temperature.
Sweating stops and the body can no longer rid itself
of excess heat.
- mental confusion, delirium, loss of consciousness, convulsions
- a body temperature of 106 degrees F or higher;
hot dry skin which may be red, mottled, or bluish.
Victims of heat stroke will die unless treated promptly.
While awaiting medical help, the victim must be removed
to a cool area and his or her clothing soaked with cool
water. He or she should be fanned vigorously to increase
cooling. Prompt first aid can prevent permanent injury to
the brain and other vital organs.
Heat exhaustion results from loss of fluid through
sweating when a worker has failed to drink enough fluids
or take in enough salt or both. The worker with heat
exhaustion still sweats but experiences extreme weakness
or fatigue, giddiness, nausea, or headache. The skin is
clammy and moist, the complexion pale or flushed, and
the body temperature normal or slightly higher.
Treatment is usually simple: the victim should rest in a
cool place and drink an electrolyte solution (a beverage
used by athletes to quickly restore potassium, calcium,
and magnesium salts). Severe cases involving victims who
vomit or lose consciousness may require longer treatment
under medical supervision.
Heat cramps, painful spasms of the muscles, are caused
when workers drink large quantities of water but fail to
replace their body’s salt loss. Tired muscles – those used
for performing the work – are usually the ones most susceptible
to cramps. Cramps may occur during or after
working hours and may be relieved by taking liquids by
mouth or saline solutions intravenously for quicker relief,
if medically determined to be required.
Fainting (heat syncope) may be a problem for the worker
not acclimatized to a hot environment who simply
stands still in the heat. Victims usually recover quickly
after a brief period of lying down. Moving around, rather
than standing still, will usually reduce the possibility of
Heat rash, also known as prickly heat, may occur in hot
and humid environments where sweat is not easily
removed from the surface of the skin by evaporation.
When extensive or complicated by infection, heat rash can
be so uncomfortable that it inhibits sleep and impedes a
worker’s performance or even results in temporary total
disability. It can be prevented by resting in a cool place
and allowing the skin to dry.
Preventing Heat Stress
Most heat-related health problems can be prevented or
the risk of developing them reduced. Following a few basic
precautions should lessen heat stress.
1. A variety of engineering controls including general ventilation
and spot cooling by local exhaust ventilation at
points of high heat production may be helpful.
Shielding is required as protection from radiant heat
sources. Evaporative cooling and mechanical refrigeration
are other ways to reduce heat. Cooling fans can
also reduce heat in hot conditions. Eliminating steam
leaks will also help. Equipment modifications, the use
of power tools to reduce manual labor and personal
cooling devices or protective clothing are other ways to
reduce the hazards of heat exposure for workers.
2. Work practices such as providing plenty of drinking
water – as much as a quart per worker per hour – at
the workplace can help reduce the risk of heat disorders.
Training first aid workers to recognize and treat
heat stress disorders and making the names of trained
staff known to all workers is essential. Employers
should also consider an individual worker’s physical
condition when determining his or her fitness for working
in hot environments. Older workers, obese workers
and personnel on some types of medication are at
3. Alternating work and rest periods with longer rest periods
in a cool area can help workers avoid heat stress.
If possible, heavy work should be scheduled during the
cooler parts of the day and appropriate protective
clothing provided. Supervisors should be trained to
detect early signs of heat stress and should permit
workers to interrupt their work if they are extremely
4. Acclimatization to the heat through short exposures
followed by longer periods of work in the hot environment
can reduce heat stress. New employees and
workers returning from an absence of two weeks or
more should have a 5-day period of acclimatization.
This period should begin with 50 percent of the normal
workload and time exposure the first day and gradually
building up to 100 percent on the fifth day.
5. Employee education is vital so that workers are aware
of the need to replace fluids and salt lost through
sweat and can recognize dehydration, exhaustion,
fainting, heat cramps, salt deficiency, heat exhaustion
and heat stroke as heat disorders. Workers should also
be informed of the importance of daily weighing before
and after work to avoid dehydration.
Now that summer is here make sure that your home is
also a safe place to be. Do you have a pool? Is it fenced?
Does everyone know how to swim and in a worst case scenario
are there people who can provide first aid and CPR.
If not, it is time to put you home summer safety plan
If you are going on vacation, please ensure that the family
vehicle is in top running order. Tires, brakes, windshield
wipers, air conditioning, fluid, etc. should be in good
repair before you set off on a trip.
Keep summer safe for you and your family. The National
Safety Council www.NSC.org and other safety councils
have items posted to their websites to help you prepare
for summer. Visit these sites, enjoy your summer fun and
please stay safe.
For more information, click on the Author Biography link at the top of this page.