The hot months of summer are when heat-related illness and injury are top-of-mind, especially for those of us in the construction industry. Because many people are exposed to high heat on the job, it’s imperative that workers and employers take precautions to prevent heat stress at work.
What are the hazards of working in the heat?
Our bodies maintain stable internal temperatures in hot environments by circulating blood to the skin and by sweating. This becomes more difficult as the surrounding air temperature rises above normal body temperature, especially if the humidity level is too high to allow for proper sweat evaporation.
When the body is unable to rid itself of excess heat, its core temperature rises, causing increased heart rate. Heat stress can result in heatstroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, or heat rashes. Heat exposure can also increase the risk of workplace injuries due to sweaty palms, fogged-up safety glasses, dizziness, or burns.
What are the risk factors of heat stress?
Workers in both indoor and outdoor environments can be at risk of heat stress. Here are some of the job-specific factors that put workers at greater risk:
- High temperature and humidity
- Direct sun exposure
- Radiant heat sources
- Contact with hot objects
- Limited air movement
- Heavy physical exertion
- Bulky or nonbreathing protective clothing and equipment
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “workers at greater risk of heat stress include those who are 65 years of age or older, are overweight, have heart disease or high blood pressure, or take medications that may be affected by extreme heat.”
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration adds that “workers who are suddenly exposed to working in a hot environment face additional but generally avoidable hazards to their safety and health.”
How can heat stress be prevented?
Employers can — and should — reduce workplace heat stress through engineering controls and work practices. The CDC has an extensive list of examples of such preventative measures on their website.
- The CDC’s recommendations for engineering controls include the following:
- Increase air velocity.
- Use reflective or heat-absorbing shielding or barriers.
- Reduce steam leaks, wet floors, or humidity.
The CDC’s recommendations for safe work practices include the following:
- Limit time in the heat.
- Increase recovery time in a cool environment.
- Reduce the physical demands of the job.
- Train supervisors and workers about heat stress.
- Implement a buddy system where workers observe one another for signs of heat intolerance.
- Require workers to conduct self-monitoring and create a workgroup to make decisions on self-monitoring options and standard operating procedures.
- Provide an adequate amount of cool drinking water near the work area, and encourage workers to rehydrate frequently.
- Implement a heat alert program whenever the weather service forecasts a heatwave.
- Institute a heat acclimatization plan.
The CDC’s website also includes additional, in-depth information about heat stress training, acclimatization, hydration, and rest breaks.
Partner with a finishing company that takes worker safety seriously
Whether by ensuring that workers remain properly hydrated in winter or by instituting the engineering controls and work practices necessary to prevent heat stress in summer, Diversified Interiors takes worker safety seriously during every season. If you’re interested in partnering with an interior finishing company that’s committed to excellence across the board, contact Diversified Interiors today.