Summer is now upon us. That means the next three months will be the longest and sunniest days of the year in North America. And, in Nevada, it gets mighty hot in the summer. Average summer temperature is 92 degrees and there are plenty of days that climbs even higher.
Summer’s rising temperatures, both inside and outside, increase the potential for heat-related workplace injuries or illnesses, especially for workers who are regularly exposed to heat on the job. This includes employees in food service, automobile service or repair and those whose jobs are primarily outdoors such as hotel grounds keepers and pool servers. Many industries can find themselves at risk for employee injuries or illnesses due to heat exposure. It is important for all businesses to foster a safe work environment, especially when the thermometer climbs.
Prolonged exposure to high temperatures — whether from the sun, an oven or a hot machine — makes the human body work doubly hard to cool down. If unable to do so, the body’s reaction is to store the heat, which can result in a number of dangerous and potentially life-threatening conditions. At a minimum, uncomfortable heat levels can lead to risky conditions like fogged-up safety equipment, sweaty, slippery palms and inattentiveness due to physical discomfort and distraction. More extreme physical conditions include cramps, heatstroke and physical exhaustion.
There are three heat-related injuries that can occur when a body is exposed to extreme temperatures.
Heat exhaustion occurs after long periods of heat exposure. The body’s attempts to cool itself down begins to take its toll and lost fluids and salts cause muscles to stop working, leading to cramps and weakness. Reduced blood flow to the brain causes headaches and dizziness. People with high blood pressure are especially at risk.
Heatstroke shocks the body’s cooling system and causes it to shut down. In as little as 10 minutes, a body temperature can rocket to 106 degrees or more, which can lead to organ failure. If heatstroke isn’t treated immediately, it can be deadly.
Sunstroke is the most common type of heat stroke. It is caused by the sun shining directly on the head and neck for long periods of time. Increasing fluids and moving to a cool location can help prevent sunstroke.
Here are five steps employers can take to foster a safe work environment and prevent heat-related injuries.
Establish an illness/injury prevention program. If you don’t have one in place, work with OSHA or a private insurance carrier to establish and implement one. Many state and private organizations provide free or low-cost ready-made safety materials, such as signage, written policies and other resources. If you do have a safety plan already, review it to confirm there are specific protocols in place to prevent heat-related injuries.
Regulate a comfortable thermal environment. If your business primarily operates indoors, confirm your HVAC or cooling system is clean, efficient and in good operating order before the summer heats up. If staff are exposed to ancillary heat sources, like ovens and fire pits, provide easy access to protective gear such as goggles, gloves and aprons.
Establish a hydration station. Provide access to fresh, cold water throughout the day, and encourage employees to take frequent water breaks. If your workplace allows, encourage employees to keep a water bottle nearby at all times.
Encourage regular breaks. Working eight or more hours per day under a hot sun or near a heat source is exhausting. Encourage employees to take regular 15 or 30 minute breaks, preferably in the shade or in a cool spot, to allow their bodies to rest and recharge.
Equip staff with a rapid response plan. Provide staff with written policies and a rapid response plan should an emergency occur. When in doubt, always contact emergency services.
Your business depends on the health and productivity of your employees. Providing a safe work environment protects your company and your people.
David Quezada is vice president of loss control services for Employers Insurance Company of Nevada.