PIC Safety Discussion
Heat Stress

High temperature and humidity extremes can be dangerous to people at work and can lead to injuries, illnesses, and even death. There is statistical evidence that accidents increase during periods of temperature extremes.
Heat stress can affect your physical and mental conditions. These conditions diminish your motor coordination and mental capacity, as well as cause fatigue, resulting in more injuries. You can stop thinking rationally, make poor decisions, panic, and fail to take advantage of life saving actions.

These conditions may impair your ability to work safely when operating equipment, working at elevation, around road traffic, and handling hazardous substances.

Heat stress or hyperthermia symptoms can range from minor illnesses to fatalities if the victim does not seek or get relief quickly.

The information in this discussion is vital for your safety at work, but it is also relevant for you and your family away from work.

Employers should reduce workplace heat stress by implementing engineering and work practice controls (Rest, Water, Shade). Engineering controls work by focusing on removing the hazard at the source before it encounters the worker, while work practice controls are focused on changing how the job is performed to minimize worker exposure to the hazards.

  • Dehydration is the primary cause of heat stress. Replacing fluids lost from sweating is the single most important way to control heat stress and keep workers productive, safe, and alert.
  • The first choice should be water. Encourage workers to drink one cup of cool water every 15 to 20 minutes even if they are not thirsty. Hydrate! Hydrate! Hydrate!
  • Make sure everyone understands thirst is not a good indicator that body fluids need replacement.
  • For un-acclimatized individuals, adding sliced fresh fruit to a container of water can help bolster lost electrolytes.
  • It’s important to avoid drinks that contain caffeine or alcohol. They promote loss of fluids through
  • Increased urination.

The first days on the job are the most dangerous! Acclimatization enhances the person’s tolerance to the heat. People need to adjust (acclimate) to hot working conditions over a few days. Gradually increase workers’ time in hot conditions over 7-14 days. OSHA has found that almost half of heat-related deaths occur on a worker’s very first day on the job, while over 70% of heat-related deaths occur during a worker’s first week.

  • Establish an acclimatization schedule as environmental temperatures increase. Gradually increase the time you spend in the heat. Follow the schedule when workers are first assigned and when workers return from an extended absence. Increase the number of breaks, and identify areas to get out of the heat (i.e. shady area, tent, A/C in vehicles, etc.).
  • Closely watch employees for the first 14 days or until they are fully acclimatized.
  • Non-physically fit workers require more time to fully acclimatize.
  • Acclimatization can be maintained for a few days of no heat exposure.
  • Taking breaks in air conditioning will not affect acclimatization.

The three basics of Heat Illness prevention are: