Greek and Roman astrologers recognized that, with the rise of the star Sirius in the summer sky, they were about to enter a period of extreme heat, drought, thunderstorms, lethargy, fever, mad dogs and bad luck… Today we just know this as the hottest part of the summer and with wildfires burning across North America, the effects are easy enough to see!
But, it’s more than fires that endanger lives. Field Service team members are deployed every day to work in the heat and it’s essential that these workers are protected from the hazards of the “Dog Days of Summer.”
The risks of working in extreme temperatures are well known and yet, every year, dozens of workers in North America die, and thousands more become seriously ill from working, without effective safety measures, in the heat.
When a person works in a hot environment, the body must get rid of excess heat to maintain a stable internal temperature. This is normally accomplished through sweating, however, when the air is warm and the humidity is too high then the sweat produced cannot evaporate. When this happens, the body cannot get rid of excess heat and it starts to store it. This raises the bodies internal temperature and the heart rate increases. If this process continues unchecked, the individual may become irritable or sick, may become confused and often loses the desire to drink. This is can then be followed by fainting and possibly death, if the body cannot be cooled down. This is “Heat Stroke”, the most serious form of heat related illness.
Heat stroke is a medical emergency that may result in death! Call 911 immediately!
The symptoms of heat stress are many and the following are just some that workers need to look out for, not only in themselves, but in their co-workers:
- Excessive sweating or red, hot dry skin
- Very high body temperature
- Light headedness
- Increased heart rate
- Pain in the abdomen
- Heat rash
Under occupational health and safety regulation, employers are responsible for protecting their workers from hazards in the workplace. That means ensuring workers are made aware of the risks and trained to recognize the symptoms of heat exposure and how to deal with them. It means ensuring workers are provided with water, rest and shelter from the heat and given time to gradually increase workloads and take more frequent breaks to give them time to acclimatize and, it means having emergency plans in place and training personnel on ways to prevent the effects of heat stress. The “Heat Index” can be a useful tool to help companies and workers plan their work day to beat the heat.
In the age of digital information, OSHA has created a free, Heat Safety Tool app, for digital devices like smartphones, that can provide workers with information regarding the heat index specific to their area as well as guidance on the signs and symptoms of the various kinds of heat stress and measures that should be taken to address them.
The OSHA-NIOSH Heat Safety Tool is a free and useful resource for planning outdoor work activities based on how hot it feels throughout the day. It features real-time heat index and hourly forecasts, specific to your location, as well as occupational safety and health recommendations from OSHA and NIOSH.
The OSHA-NIOSH Heat Safety Tool features:
- A visual indicator of the current heat index and risk levels specific to your current geographical location
- Precautionary recommendations specific to heat index-associated risk levels
- Interactive, hourly forecast of heat index values, risk level, and recommendations for planning
- Editable location, temperature, and humidity controls for calculation of variable conditions
- Signs and symptoms and first aid information for heat-related illnesses
An ounce of prevention, “Water. Rest. Shade”, can be enough to make sure that our workers thrive in the “Dog Days of Summer”!