A Workplace Hazard
Written by Jack Rubinger
While the old song says “there ain’t no cure for the summertime blues” when it comes to heat stress there are two goals to aim for – awareness and action.
“Unfortunately, most people think they have had enough to drink when they actually haven’t, thus the heat stress symptoms -- headaches, dizziness, lightheadedness, weakness -- they experience,” said Sharon Roman, Regulatory Compliance Consultants. “So, signs and labels remind employees to drink plenty of fluids.”
While heat stress is serious, heatstroke can be deadly -- dry, hot skin with no sweating, convulsions, severe vomiting, even unconsciousness. That’s when you’ve got to call 9-1-1 at once for help. In the meantime, move the worker to a cool, shaded area, loosen or remove heavy clothing, provide cool drinking water and mist the person.
“Signage, in the form of posters on the job site, can serve as a reminder to employees about staying hydrated and bringing spare clothing to the job,” said Steve Hollenbach, Project Safety Manager, McCarthy Building Companies, Inc.
Any location in which there is the potential for heat stress should have warning signs. Signs should be posted wherever employees gather or pass through on the way to work. These include near time clocks, tool rooms, break areas, lunch areas, and on vehicles used for transportation.
How to Prevent Heat Stress?
- Familiarize yourself with signs/symptoms of heat-related illnesses
- Monitor yourself and coworkers
- Block direct sun or other heat sources
- Use cooling fans/air-conditioning
- Rest regularly
- Drink plenty of water
- Wear lightweight, light colored, loose-fitting clothes
- Eat light meals
- Avoid alcohol
Heat stress is most often a risk during hot summer weather – although not always.
“Heat stress is not limited to the outdoors. It can actually be hotter indoors in factories and enclosed places with heat-producing equipment,” said Roman. “Or on a project where the building is enclosed by the month of May, but the air conditioning is not up and running till June,” added Hollenbach.
Myths & Truths about Heat Stress
One myth concerns sports drinks. “The amount of electrolytes in these drinks is roughly double what’s necessary. On really bad days we use half the drink mix indicated with water. Too much ice makes the water so cold it can shock the system and make a person sick,” said Hollenbach.
“Also, a change of clothing (like socks) is very good. It gets your feet out of hot boots for a short break, and lets perspiration evaporate. A fresh T-shirt (free of concrete grit) is also a welcome break,” Hollenbach said.
Situations Change – Your Signage Should, Too
Leaving warning signs posted even when there is no danger from heat stress can lead to them becoming "invisible." At construction sites, which are temporary by their very nature, signs and labels should reflect current conditions. Specialty supplies which are easily moved (like tags or magnetic tape) may be appropriate. With a DuraLabel thermal transfer printer, you can easily create your own labels onsite to keep the messages current with the work environment.